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History will be made on Sunday, when the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers square off in Las Vegas, as two Harvard football alums will meet in the Super Bowl for the first time in NFL history.
So when fullback Kyle Juszczyk ʼ13 and defensive lineman Truman Jones ʼ22 dress up with a Super Bowl LVIII title on the line, two bets will have paid off no matter the game’s final outcome.
Juszczyk and Jones, both four-year contributors for Harvard, gambled on themselves by declaring for the NFL draft after graduating. Sunday’s game is a chance to add a championship ring to their already illustrious resumes. Although seven previous Crimson players — including Juszczyk, whose 49ers lost to the Chiefs, 31-20, four years ago — have appeared in the league’s ultimate contest, next Sunday will mark the first time that both teams in the Super Bowl will have a Harvard alumnus on their roster. It is one of only six schools — along with Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State, and Southern California — with at least one representative on each squad.
John Dockery ’66 — a halfback-turned-quarterback who tried his hand at professional baseball before a successful career as a defensive back in the NFL — paved the path for Crimson players to reach the pinnacle of the sport when his New York Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III to lift the trophy on Jan. 12, 1969. Since then, only a few have followed in his footsteps. The other Harvard players to have won the Super Bowl are Jamil Soriano ’03, Matt Birk ’98, and Cameron Brate ’14.
Still, despite losing in his only championship game appearance, Juszczyk may be the most successful. When he takes the field in Las Vegas, he will become the only Harvard player to play on the game’s biggest stage twice. In 2020, he became the first Crimson alumnus to score a Super Bowl touchdown, and he will almost certainly be instrumental in any San Francisco victory on Feb. 11. This year, he has played in 46 percent of the 49ers’ offensive snaps, lining up all over the field in various formations.
“I just really love that 49ers offense, all the stuff that they can do,” said Scott Larkee ’99, Harvard’s defensive coordinator. “They got a lot of cool schemes that involve Kyle moving all over the place and [running back Christian] McCaffrey running wild.”
Juszczyk’s talent was clear early on, as even in his first season at Harvard — a veteran-led program in which freshmen typically do not receive much playing time — he managed to compile 124 receiving yards and three scores from the tight end position.
But his breakout really came during his junior season in 2011, when he racked up 512 yards, found the end zone seven times, and led Harvard to an Ivy League title. For his efforts, he earned All-Ivy First Team and All-America Second Team nods despite a crowded tight ends room that also included Brate and Tyler Ott ’14, who has carved out a lengthy career as a long snapper for the Baltimore Ravens.
“It had to be probably about his junior year where it was like, ‘He’s really good,’” Larkee recalled. “And then as it got more towards draft time, it was like, ‘Wow, this kid could get drafted.’”
His senior year was even better, as he led the team with 52 catches, 706 yards, and eight touchdowns, being named First-Team All-America by Associated Press. Ultimately, Juszczyk finished his Harvard career with 125 catches, 1,576 receiving yards, and 22 scores — all of which rank in the top ten in school history.
In the 2013 NFL Draft, he was taken by the Ravens with the 130th overall pick, becoming the earliest Crimson player selected since linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski ’00, who was taken 119th overall by the Seattle Seahawks in 2000 and went on to reach a Super Bowl with the team in 2006. The Medina, Ohio native was drafted the year after the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII over the 49ers, the team he would join four years later.
At six-foot-two, 235 pounds, Juszczyk wasn’t quite big enough to play tight end professionally, but he was undeterred. With the Ravens, he mostly appeared as a running back before transitioning to fullback with the 49ers — and becoming one of the greatest fullbacks in recent NFL history.
Over his 11-year career, he has started 127 of the 172 games he has appeared in, racking up almost 2,500 yards and 16 touchdowns in the passing game and another 211 yards and five scores on the ground. He is an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, and this year was named an Associated Press All-Pro for the first time. The four-year, $21 million deal he signed with the 49ers in 2017 was, at the time, the largest deal given to a fullback in NFL history, a record which was topped by the five-year, $27 million pact he inked in 2021 to stay in San Francisco.
“Kyle is such a good football player, and I think he’s better at fullback now than when he got here,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan in the lead-up to San Francisco’s Jan. 20 win over the Green Bay Packers. “And I think when he got here, he was the best fullback in the league.”
Along with Birk and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05, who had a 17-year career spanning nine different franchises, Juszczyk is arguably the Harvard alumnus who has achieved the most success on the NFL level.
Back in Cambridge, his exploits did not go unnoticed. Jones — the 148th team captain in Harvard football history — first met Juszczyk and Fitzpatrick at a dinner organized by the Friends of Harvard Football, a group of the program’s donors and supporters, in the spring before his senior season, where members of the graduating class could learn from program alumni.
“They did give me a little bit more confidence, just knowing that, ‘Okay, the level of football from Ivy League to NFL isn’t that drastically different,’” Jones said. “You’ve seen examples of people that do it.”
Jones, like Juszczyk, had a late breakout season that solidified his position as an NFL prospect. He posted a stellar sophomore year in 2019, being named to the All-Ivy League Third Team. Then, after a slow 2021 season, he rebounded in his fifth year, leading the team with 13 tackles for a loss, six sacks, six quarterback hurries, and three blocked kicks, earning a unanimous selection to the All-Ivy First Team and a share of the Bushnell Cup, awarded to the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. NFL teams took notice.
Despite a Pro Day in which he displayed elite athleticism, he went undrafted. Jones, however, was snapped up by the Chiefs shortly thereafter. Kansas City’s interest in him had been noted throughout the process, as he was one of just 30 prospects to participate in a pre-draft workout with the team.
“He can kind of do it all. And then, in his fifth year, some of the things he did on tape are just mind-boggling,” Larkee said. “I was really surprised that he didn’t get drafted, but obviously he was just below that, and he’s doing great with the opportunities he’s got so far.”
Jones impressed in training camp and preseason, making two solo tackles in a 33-32 win over the Cleveland Browns in the Chiefs’ final preseason contest. It was enough for him to make the Chiefs’ 16-man practice squad, allowing him to participate in scrimmages with the team.
“That was a crazy time,” Jones recalled of making the roster. “I was just super excited to still be with the Chiefs. I feel like I really was a great fit here, could see myself getting on the field here, and also just felt like the coaches respected what I brought to the table as a very physical defensive end but also being intelligent and smart and being able to understand their scheme.”
“I knew he was going to make it,” Larkee added. “It was one of those where it was like, he’s just gotta get in, and then once they realize what kind of person he is, he’s definitely going to make it.”
It has been an up-and-down season for Kansas City overall. Although it finished with an 11-6 record and won its eighth consecutive AFC West title, its offense was stagnant for much of the season, with its wide receivers having persistent struggles with drops. Star quarterback Patrick Mahomes II posted a 92.6 passer rating — his worst full-season mark as a starter — and he spearheaded a unit that was just the 15th-most productive offense in the NFL. Instead, the team rode defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s No. 2-ranked unit to arrive at the precipice of another title.
Although Jones has not seen game action for the Chiefs, the strides he has made on the practice field have paid off in the form of significant improvements throughout the season. As a practice squad member, he has also played a vital role in preparing the starters for opposing defenses. In the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, he’ll study 49ers star pass rusher Nick Bosa’s moves and emulate them in order to help the Chiefs’ offensive linemen contain him.
“The practice squad is really essential to preparing the team throughout the week to get them ready for the opponent they’re going to face,” Jones explained. “I’m not just watching [the 49ers’] defense, but also watching their offense and being able to emulate both of those and understand both sides of the ball.”
One game remains in Jones’s quest to become the second former Crimson player — after Soriano — to win a Super Bowl in his rookie season. With speedy playmakers like McCaffrey and wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, as well as big, physical targets in tight end George Kittle and Juszczyk, the 49ers won’t make it easy. San Francisco opened as two-point favorites to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
“He’s kind of a mismatch problem,” he said of Juszczyk. “It’s a real challenge for us to understand, between him and Kittle, that they have these bigger receiver-body tight ends who can make plays and make catches down the field as well as they’re willing to get into the box and block defensive ends, block linebackers, and really pose a dual threat.”
With Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid, Kansas City appears to offer Jones a chance to compete for Super Bowls for many years to come. Shanahan’s 49ers are in a similarly strong position. But Jones is only focused on next Sunday’s contest.
“Never would’ve imagined that it’s here, but just so thankful, so blessed for this opportunity,” said Jones of the potential of winning a championship in his rookie season. “I just want to do everything in my power to help us win and help us succeed.”
Still, regardless of who the confetti falls on in Las Vegas, there will be one winner: Harvard’s football program.
“Harvard doesn’t show up in those conversations a lot of the time, when talking about best football programs in the country,” Jones said. “Through this and through the talent that we’ve had throughout the years that has ended up in the NFL and has gone on to do so much more beyond football, Harvard should be in that conversation.”
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