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Perceptions vs. Reality

Thursday, November 08, 2007

By A.J. Tracey, Brown Offensive Lineman

I was sitting in my house in the rural town of Choctaw, Okla., when I was first introduced to the idea of playing football in the Ivy League. A rough voice with a thick New England accent described the football program and the university I was to be recruited by over my phone. I sat there not knowing where Brown University was located, and even once I was told I had to look it up on a map. My life had been all about football. Academics had always come easy in a region where sports were the main focus and school sat on the back burner. My immediate thoughts were of Hollywood's depiction of Ivy League schools: Ancient buildings filled with the most brilliant students in the country. The notion that there were actually athletic programs at these schools had never occurred to me while I was being recruited by programs from around the country.

In fact, they are some of the most talented athletic programs in the country. We compete for these programs for the love of the game. We do not receive scholarships for our participation in these athletic programs, something my offensive line coach, Frank Sheehan, loves to remind us about when we play non-conference teams like the University of Rhode Island. The Ivy League is comprised of teams filled with athletes who can compete successfully at the Division I level while still being able to undertake the difficulty of obtaining a degree from some of the most challenging universities in the country. We do it for the opportunities presented to us after completion of a challenging four years of athletics and academics.

Let me try to explain specifically what Ivy League athletics is really about using the Brown football team. We are not your typical college athletes. Most of us have grasped that we will be going professional in something other than our respective sport. We therefore know that we must compete as hard in the classroom as we do on the field. In 2005 we won the Ivy League Championship. We were led by Nick Hartigan, one of the best running backs in Ivy League history. That's pretty typical though, isn't it? Teams that win championships usually have at least one great stand-out player. Nick, however, was no ordinary stand out. He was the most superstitious player I have ever come across. He would wear ballet slippers, eat Cherries Garcia and Charleston Chews before games, sit next to the same offensive lineman, Mickey Cooper, on the away trips, and hug every offensive lineman before game time. After his collegiate career was over he had a tryout with the New York Jets which went well but in the end he was unable to secure a position on the roster. So unfortunately he was forced begrudgingly accept his other offer of attending Harvard Law School.

For more of A.J.'s blog posting, please check out The Quad at the New York Times.