Harvard is the oldest higher-education institution in the United States. The school boasts 48 Nobel Laureates, 48 Pulitzer Prize winners and 38 current or former Heads of State. They have also have the large academic library in the world, 28 million pieces in their museums and a six-percent acceptance rate.
And they’re also Tight End U.
Three of the Crimson’s last four starting tight ends have played in the NFL: Kyle Juszczyk, Cameron Brate and Ben Braunecker. Anthony Firkser could make that four of their last five.
The 6-foot-2, 241-pounder is aiming to follow his three predecessors from Cambridge to the NFL, where he could make a position switch, similarly to Juszczyk moving to fullback with the Baltimore Ravens his fourth-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft.
A three-time All-Ivy League selection, Firkser flourished at h-back in Harvard’s offense the last three seasons, racking up 1,559 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns on 99 catches. It is success the mathematics major credits to both on-field versatility and a daily battle balancing FCS athletics and academics at one of the world’s premier institutions.
“Balance has been a huge reason who I am today,” Firkser told HERO Sports. “Academics are so challenging here. Being around the smartest kids in the world and balancing that with competing on the field with guys who are pushing themselves and pushing me to be the best I can be. It’s something that keeps me improving as a person.”
And he’s done just that, going from a unranked high school receiver at Manalapan (N.J.) High School with minimal college interest to an NFL prospect. As Firkser continues his drive toward the draft, we caught up with him to discuss his recruitment, college career, draft prep and more.
Four years ago, you were wrapping up your high school career and officially picking Harvard. What was your mindset while getting recruited?
“Get into the best possible school. Plus the offense at Harvard suited my play style and body type. Coach [Tim] Murphy showed me Kyle Juszcyk's film. How he played in their offense intrigued me. The prestige of Harvard attracted me as well. It’s hard to say no at that point."
Did you think about the NFL four years ago?
“No, not four years ago. After sophomore year, a family friend saw my name on rankings. I was around No. 17 for fullbacks for the 2017 NFL Draft. From that point, it was in the back of my head, and I thought there might be a chance. As time went on, I kept getting higher and thought I’d start focusing more on it.”
You were a two-sport start in high school but didn’t play as a freshman at Harvard in 2013. You then saw significant playing time in 2014. How did you handle this transition?
“It takes time to get acclimated to the speed of the game, the offense and new position. Learning the blocking technique and the run schemes was a big change for me. But learning from the seniors like Cam Brate, the starting tight end then, was big. Learning from him was an amazing opportunity so I tried to embrace that from older guys in the room.
What are you working on before the draft?
"Getting my speed and strength the best it can be. Prove I can compete at that high of a level. Show teams I have the testing numbers."
Have you talked to former teammates that have prepared for the draft?
"I’ve talked with Ben Braunecker. He’s helped me figure out agent, how to train and other things like that. Anthony Fabiano as well. He steered me toward Athletic Evolution in Woburn, Mass., where he trained and has relationships. Older guys from Harvard have been a helpful resource for me."
Do you still check out projections and mock drafts?
"I sporadically checked on it as I went through my career to see where people saw me. Now I see ones but I keep them at the way back of my mind and focus on scouts and what my agent is telling me."
Last fall you said “if I can get the opportunity, I'll play as long as I can”. Obviously football ends at some point. What then?
Right now the main focus is on football. But after doing a couple internships in the area, general business consulting is where I’d probably head.
One thing that highlight tape or stats may not show about you?
"I’m a smart player. I can pick up the game. I’m really coachable, which I believe the coaches would also say. I pick up things the first time and react to different changes in the game quickly.
Are there misconceptions of Harvard football players?
"People may think the football here isn’t as competitive or intense as the bigger schools. There are a lot of guys here — maybe not the same amount as top-tier teams but still a lot — that can compete at the highest level. From work ethic, intensity and physicality, Ivy League football is something people shouldn’t look past."