Updated: 10/11/10 10:57 p.m.
Last week, New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott was asked if he’d hesitate to put a big hit on the Buffalo Bills’ starting quarterback during the teams’ game the following Sunday.
“No not at all,” the loquacious Scott said. “I don’t know, he’s a pretty smart guy. I don’t want him to hit me with a book.”
It’s a perception Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 gets a lot these days. And unsurprisingly so. Harvard graduates go on to become a lot of things–Nobel Prize winners, investment bankers, actors, journalists, even US Presidents–but NFL quarterback is not usually one of them.
Fitzpatrick, for his part, is well aware of this fact. For even he admits that he never expected to make it this far. But all of a sudden, here he is–five years after graduation, the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills.
“I never imagined even playing in the NFL,” Fitzpatrick wrote in an e-mail. “It seemed like a pipe dream.”
After receiving no Division-IA scholarship offers coming out of high school, Fitzpatrick’s skepticism was understandable. That didn’t change much after his first two collegiate seasons, in which Fitzpatrick earned only five total starts. But after a sophomore campaign in which Fitzpatrick threw eight touchdowns with no interceptions and rushed for 523 yards, things began to change.
The junior earned the starting job at quarterback in the 2003 season and finished with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions in just seven games. He completed over 60 percent of his passes and rushed for over 400 yards and five touchdowns. That was when his coach saw something in him that Fitzpatrick hadn’t yet seen in himself.
“I took him after his junior year, [and] I said, ‘Fitzy, I think you can play in the NFL,’” Tim Murphy said. “And he was like, ‘really?’”
Murphy told his quarterback to go work at the Peyton Manning Passing Academy, a football offensive skills camp for high school students. Fitzpatrick–who already had a finance internship lined up–was initially hesitant, but Murphy convinced him by explaining that all the elite major college quarterbacks in the country would be there.
“I want you to go down there, because I want you to be around them for three days, and when you are, you’re going to realize you’re as good as any one of them,” Murphy told Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick obliged and found out his coach was right.
“He came back, and I said, ‘How’d it go?’” Murphy remembered. “And he goes, ‘Good.’ He’s very understated, which I love. I said, ‘Well, was it what I said it would be?’ And he says, ‘Yup.’ And it finally dawned on him that yeah, he could do this. And I think that motivated him, showed him that the ceiling was different than he maybe thought it was.”
Fitzpatrick put the skills he learned at the Manning camp to good use his senior season at Harvard, winning Ivy League Player of the Year. He threw for nearly 1,200 yards, 13 touchdowns with just six interceptions, and he ranked second on the team with 448 rushing yards. The quarterback also finished his career as Harvard’s all-time leader with 6,271 total yards while leading the Crimson to an undefeated 10-0 season and an Ivy League title.
After those successes, it was no longer just Murphy who believed in Fitzpatrick; NFL scouts were starting to take notice too. The Arizona native earned invites to two senior bowls (the East-West Shrine Bowl and the Hula Bowl), as well as the NFL Combine.
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