Reflections On a College Experience

Reflections On a College Experience

Despite several requests, I have been remiss in posting the note I had to submit with my induction into Harvard’s Varsity Club Hall of Fame back in November. They ask awardees to write some reflections on their college experience. A simple thing, sure, but I got a little emotional as I wrote. As I typed, the setbacks, frustrations, “ah ha!” moments, and joys from a whirlwind time in Cambridge rushed back, some for the first time in 20-plus years.

I also felt a deep sense of gratitude to the many—and there were many—who helped me along the way. That my luck has continued since continues to amaze and humble me…

The Georgian architecture of Harvard was really something to behold for an island kid in the Fall of 1998. But what floored me was the people. I was surrounded by peers who were clearly better: smarter, wiser, happier, more mature, more accomplished. More astonishing was the kindness, character, and humor of these superhumans. Some recoil upon discovering their smallness; I relished it. I knew there was no place I’d rather be. 

The joy of finding a bigger, more promising world was met with the frustration of my own ineptitude on the football field. A Run and Shoot quarterback in high school, I threw 50 times a game and never from a traditional pocket. I quickly found myself a college quarterback who couldn’t do the basics. Worse, I was a disaster at Harvard’s bread-and-butter run play, an off-tackle zone handoff, a play that turned me into someone futilely running after a departing bus.

I’m still grateful to Brad Wilford who generously and patiently offered help and encouragement in learning a complex offense. He did this as he battled for the starting quarterback position, which he would earn the following 1999 season. I would later try to pay it forward to younger quarterbacks. 

It was an innovative time in football offense—and for Harvard’s. The Spread and multi-receiver sets were taking over college football. A plodding style of football started to get more dynamic and effective. The Harvard quarterback had become something Peyton Manning in duties and repertoire.

My high school coach, Don Botelho, was a personal angel and the first to believe in me outside my parents—a profound impact for a shy and ignorant teenager. He painstakingly replied to recruiting mail from colleges. He delivered me a better future.

At first, Jay Mills was scary and the cause of sleepless nights. He turned out to be my greatest teacher. Coach Mills was demanding and insisted on perfection. Steps and movements had to be exacting and precise. Details had details. In time, things started to click. I realized he was teaching me how to prepare to win, to be deserving of winning. Making the connection between all the work and winning was life changing.

Harvard offensive records fell that 2000 year, and yet there was more improvement to be made, particularly turnovers. Despite the many yards and touchdowns, we lost five games by a combined total of 23 points. Fixing the turnover problem was crucial to the undefeated 2001 season. 

The players of that era had many standouts. Beyond talent, I appreciated their good nature and how much we liked each other, especially among the ‘02 class. Besides making it a better experience, I think those friendships really helped us win tight games , including our 2001 showdown with also-undefeated Penn.

In that game, we were down two touchdowns at halftime, but there was no sense of alarm in the locker room. Guys just looked at each other with the nods and smirks shared between co-conspirators. We knew we were going to win. It felt supernatural. I get goosebumps thinking about it today.

Carl Morris was Harvard’s Jerry Rice. Instead of his biggest plays and records, I think most about his toughness and selflessness. His greatness made it easy to overlook just how productive the receivers and tight ends were, guys like Sam Taylor, Dan Farley, Kyle Cremarosa, Sean Meeker, and Matt Fratto (among many others); or the consistency and reliability of the running backs. Nick Palazzo’s yards per carry was outstanding, and he almost never got stopped for loss. Many games had three or four different ball carriers and 10-plus players recording receptions. We had weapons everywhere.

The Offensive Line was the heart of it all, the real star. I’m still grateful for Jason Hove, Steve Collins, Justin Stark, Dan Kistler, Mike Clare, Jamil Soriano, Brian Sponheimer, Spencer Knibbe, Sam Miller, Nate Torinus, Lane Arnold, John Kadzielski, Joe Traverso, Joe Price, Jack Fadule, Dan Weidle, Joe Mujalli, and the others who drove our success. More than that, I’m grateful to be their friend. 

From these and others, I also found great leaders and role models, some of whom were younger than me. Everyone should be so lucky to have younger role models.

We had great care and support from the training room. Emmo (Dick Emerson) and Brad Quigley took excellent care of us, and occasionally performed the small miracle. I often quietly thank two Garys from time to time. Gary Geissler took care of me through excruciating pain and easily the worst year of my life in 2002. I might have listened to doctors and thrown in the towel without his compassion and time. He salvaged half of my last season.

In the summer of 2001, Gary Guerriero diagnosed and fixed an injury that had been eroding my arm strength for over a year. I felt brand new and strong after half a summer at his U.S. Athletic Training Center in Manhattan. Thanks to him, I had vaulted, physically and mentally, just in time for that 2001 season.

Chet Stone, Artie Clifford, and others kept us well equipped and sharp. I also appreciated their bits of wisdom and occasional hilarity.

And I was lucky to get my first real—and greatest—”boss” in Coach Murphy. He could have easily been a titan elsewhere had he not wanted to be a football coach. It took me years to fully appreciate his blunt communication style and his demanding approach. He set the bar high and higher, and one way or another, he was going to get everyone’s best. That he was constantly learning and improving has been a lasting influence on me.

I appreciate Bob Glatz, the Varsity Club, and the many others making Harvard athletics so special and rewarding. Congratulations to the other (and far more deserving) recipients of this honor. I wish everyone the best. Go Crimson!

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