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Pair of Ivy Leaguers Selected in NFL Draft

By Timothy J. Mcginn, Crimson Staff Writer

Yeah, those jobs as investment bankers would have been nice, but who needs Sundays off anyway?

Former opponents and Ivy League tight ends Nate Lawrie and Casey Cramer are both headed away from New England’s frosty winters and will be reunited as teammates for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following their sixth and seventh round selections, respectively. Two Ancient Eight graduates at any position had not been chosen by the same franchise in the same year since the Patriots selected a pair of Ivy prospects in 1980, before the draft was reduced to seven rounds.

The Buccaneers’ logic in making the choices is likely the result of the NFL’s pay structure, which almost encourages teams to cut high-priced veterans as their contracts draw to a close in order to absorb a smaller hit against the salary cap.

Tampa Bay happens to have just such a glut at tight end, which bodes well for both Yale’s Lawrie and Dartmouth’s Cramer.

“[The Buccaneers’] situation is they have three tight ends that they think are the two-way guys,” said Bulldogs coach Jack Siedlecki. “They are all very experienced and they are all in the last year of their contracts. I think that puts both in good position to make the team and at least be on the practice squad.”

Whether both survive the pre-season roster cuts at tight end, however, is an even more open-ended question. While both drew rave reviews for their intelligence and football acumen from scouts, Cramer’s size—6’2, 245 lbs.—makes him a likely candidate to be shifted into the backfield to fill the role of a fullback rather than dropping into a three-point stance.

Lawrie, however, earned the highest praise from those who saw him at the combines and in the annual Blue-Gray game thanks to both his pass-catching ability and, more importantly, his competence as a blocker.

“He’s the prototype tight end,” said Siedlecki of his 6’7, 265 lb. former receiver. “He’s a big offensive line type blocker. And he had 72 catches...That’s what people saw in the all-star game, that he’s the best blocker of all of them.”

The Buccaneers weren’t the only team to express an interest in Yale’s first tight end draftee since current San Francisco starter Eric Johnson in 2000.

Both the New York Jets, with four seventh round compensatory picks, and the Seattle Seahawks hinted at a desire to land the second-team All-American, with the Jets going so far as to place a call to Siedlecki before contacting Lawrie in the moments leading up to the draft.

But it was Tampa Bay that showed the greatest interest, flying Lawrie down for a meeting with coach Jon Gruden and his staff just days prior to his selection.

“It amazes me that [the Buccaneers] know they’re going to get a guy like that in the sixth round,” Siedlecki said. “And if they feel people are going to take them late, they are going to take them earlier.”

Whether that confidence in their picks will pan out in a spot on an NFL roster is as yet up in the air. While Siedlecki compared Lawrie favorably to Johnson—“a receiver who survives as a blocker”—and acknowledged that he has both the size and the intellect to succeed at the professional level, the speed of the game will certainly take some adjusting to if his stay is to last.

“He’s going to be a guy playing inside and he’s not going to be a flex guy,” Siedlecki said. “He’s going to be down in the three-point stance. The ability to get off the ball, to get away from the blocker is going to be big for him.”

But as will be the case for both Cramer and Lawrie in the end, their Ivy pedigree and speed in picking up the game may be the strongest card.

“You’ve got to be a good enough player, bottom line, to get taken,” Siedlecki said. “But they like the intelligence factor. They like to have some guys like that in the locker room. I think it gives them an edge. They know they’re getting a quick learner.”

DANTE WATCH

While both Lawrie and Cramer took one step closer to realizing their dreams of playing professional football, former Harvard captain Dante Balestracci remains on the outside looking in, undrafted and unsigned after Sunday’s final pick.

Both Carl Morris ’03 and Jamil Soriano ’03 went unpicked in last year’s draft before inking deals with NFL clubs.

Balestracci was projected as either a late-round pick or a “priority free-agent signing,” generally signed in the weeklong aftermath of the draft. Priority free agents are entitled to a baseline level signing bonus, while training camp signees receive no such guarantees.

Though he has yet to receive any concrete offers, Balestracci indicated that the majority of interest has come from the AFC, sentiment he hopes his agent will capitalize on in the form of a contract within the next week.

“The main thing is to try to get signed, be out there with some type of film, playing against other guys,” Balestracci said. “That will open up a lot of doors, NFL Europe, training camp.”

—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at mcginn@fas.harvard.edu.

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