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Athletic Dept. Expects Increased Attention for Pro Day

By Laszlo B. Herwitz, Crimson Staff Writer

Thursday is a big day for Harvard’s Athletic Department. ESPN will likely be on campus, as will NFL.com. A horde of scouts will start their day across the river at the athletic facilities at 9 a.m.—all for the football team’s “Pro Day.”

Most years, the football team hosts a conditioning and practice exhibition for its top players so NFL scouts and the media can catch a glimpse ahead of them ahead of the NFL’s annual draft. However, a duo of high profile players has the athletic department expecting an unusually large turnout.

Strength and Conditioning Director James L. Frazier, who planned Pro Day this year, said the expected increase in media attention for the exhibition would put it in line with a season that has received heightened coverage more generally.

“Traditionally, Pro Day’s biggest challenge has been attracting interest in the event,” Frazier said. “This year, we have two big players, which has generated much more attention.”

Ben Braunecker ’16, who plays tight end, and Cole Toner ’16, an offensive lineman, are both seen as legitimate NFL prospects.

While Braunecker won’t participate in all the drills at Pro Day, according to Assistant Director of Athletic Communications Allison L. Miller, he will help attract attention to some of the lesser known players coming out. Miller expects in total 5-10 Harvard players and 3-4 athletes from smaller schools to attend.

“[Braunecker’s] performance at the [NFL] Combine has sparked a lot of interest and his appearance at the Combine has contributed to increased media and scout attention,” Miller said.

Unlike other football programs that regularly send multiple players to the NFL Combine—the league’s annual skills demonstration camp for top potential draft picks—the Crimson has a smaller presence at the Combine, and currently only counts seven total alumni playing in the NFL.

Miller said Harvard’s Pro Day originated as a means of showcasing the abilities of Harvard football players who may not have been invited to the Combine and can benefit from additional exposure and time with scouts.

As part of the athletics communications staff, Miller is responsible for notifying media outlets about Harvard’s Pro Day.

“We notify various media outlets about big time prospects in an effort to generate interest and coverage,” she said. “[It] serves as another opportunity to get our student athletes in front of media as they transition to a professional career.”

Miller predicted significant scout and media turnout this year, including ESPN, which she said is coming to Harvard’s Pro Day for the first time, largely due to Braunecker’s standout Combine performance.

Frazier has been planning the event for months, scouring Harvard’s database of scout information to compile an email list for invitations and determining the best date that aligns with other local teams’ Pro Days and the availability of Harvard Stadium’s own indoor practice “bubble.”

“We start by trying to figure out the best possible date, taking into account considerations about the bubble, when are the other schools in the Northeast having their Pro Days, and the University’s spring break schedule,” Frazier said.

Frazier coordinates with Miller and the rest of the Communications department to invite scouts to the event.

Pro Day itself is packed full of activities. Miller will go over the itinerary with scouts at 9 a.m., and then the scouts will meet with the coaches at 9:30 a.m. Then, the day’s program starts in the weight room with conditioning tests, before moving into the bubble for skill drills, which last for most of the day.

For Miller, the fact that Harvard’s athletes have the homefield advantage on Pro Day is not insignificant.

“I think our athletes feel comfortable and more focused here under the bubble,” she said.

—Staff Writer Laszlo B. Herwitz can be reached at laszlo.herwitz@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @laszloherwitz.

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