For Hartigan, Career Path Is a No-Brainer

Brown's Nick Hartigan (42) boasts impressive numbers: 1,727 yards his senior season, an Ivy League record 52 career TDs and a 3.9 grade-point average in a political science and history double major.
Brown's Nick Hartigan (42) boasts impressive numbers: 1,727 yards his senior season, an Ivy League record 52 career TDs and a 3.9 grade-point average in a political science and history double major. (By Douglas Healey -- Associated Press)
By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Like many players for whom the later rounds of the NFL draft are the only lifeline to a pro football career, Nick Hartigan has a fallback.

The career leading rusher at Brown and the most prolific scorer in Ivy League history, Hartigan's Plan B is following through on his acceptance to Harvard Law School. For now, though, he is running, lifting weights and hoping to hear his name called during the draft this weekend. He has worked out for a number of NFL teams since his senior season ended, and most have told him they see his role as primarily a blocking fullback and short-yardage runner. Hartigan said he would love to keep running with the football, "but I'll do whatever they want me to do."

Hartigan grew up in Fairfax, attended W.T. Woodson High School and spent most of his last semester at Brown working on finishing his honors thesis on the relationship between Catholics and evangelical Christians. In the months since he appeared in the East-West Shrine all-star game in San Francisco as a fullback for the East (no carries, many blocks), he has been working with private trainers to improve his speed, strength and conditioning.

"I've done everything I can do to get drafted," Hartigan said in a recent telephone interview. "Teams are saying anywhere from the sixth or seventh round to signing as a free agent. My main goal is obviously to get into a training camp, and then to make a team. If it doesn't work out, I'll go to law school. But right now, football is my number one priority."

Hartigan, 6 feet 2 and 235 pounds, would be among the few Ivy League running backs to play professional football. Calvin Hill was the NFL's rookie of the year out of Yale in 1969 and made several Pro Bowls as a talented runner for the Dallas Cowboys. Cornell's Ed Marinaro, whose Ivy League touchdown record Hartigan eclipsed last season, had a decent six-year pro career in the 1970s.

"I think the big thing you'll find is that Nick is going to surprise people," said Phil Estes, Brown's football coach. "People will put him in that category as 'Great kid, but can he play at the next level?' Let me tell you. He can play at the next level. If he gets the opportunity, people will change their minds.

"He's the most durable back I've ever had, and I've been coaching for more than 25 years. He was carrying the ball 35 to 40 times a game for us, teams stacking nine guys at the line to stop him. He always got his yards. He never missed a practice or a game. People are talking about him as a fullback. But they're going to find out when he gets his hands on the ball, he does things you can't coach. He's just so competitive when the game starts. He gets it going, and you just can't stop him. And I've never seen him get caught from behind."

Hartigan has been playing football since he started in the Fairfax Police Youth Club's peewee program when he was 7. At Woodson, he averaged 168 yards a game as a junior and 180 yards as a 180-pound senior but was not heavily recruited by major college programs mostly because of concerns about his size and speed. He also was a straight-A student.

Estes said in retrospect he could kick himself for giving Hartigan the ball only once for a four-yard gain during his freshman year. Hartigan came to school buried on the depth chart, and Estes said he ran a fairly complicated offense and felt more comfortable using his more experienced backs. But Hartigan was a quick study and unquestionably the featured tailback by his sophomore season, starting 30 games for Brown over a collegiate career that included 23 100-yard games.

All of his numbers are staggering -- 1,727 rushing yards his senior season, when he was the leading Division I-AA runner and scorer in the country; 52 career touchdowns, an Ivy League record; at least 115 yards in nine of his 10 games in 2005, including 252 against Rhode Island and 245 against Princeton. Brown finished 9-1 overall, 6-1 in the Ivy League, winning the school's first outright conference title.

There are other impressive numbers. A political science and history double major with a preference for political biography, Hartigan has a 3.9 grade-point average (out of 4.0) at Brown and was one of 16 players nationwide to win a National Football Foundation postgraduate scholarship. He was selected by a panel of college sports information directors as the nation's academic all-American player of the year and was a finalist for the prestigious Rhodes Scholar program at England's Oxford University.

His final interview for the Rhodes was conducted in Pittsburgh the night before Brown's season finale against Columbia. He went through that process, flew to New York that night and scored three touchdowns and gained 229 yards -- 175 of them in the first half -- the next day.

Hartigan was on the team bus back to Providence, R.I., after the Columbia game when he got a call from the Rhodes committee on his cellphone informing him he had not been selected. That disappointment was tempered by the joy of winning the Ivy League championship and celebrating with his teammates on a rollicking ride back to campus.

"I was pretty excited about that," he said. "If I'd gotten [the Rhodes], I would have taken it. You don't pass up something like that. But I also started to get excited about the prospect of playing pro football, too."

Since the end of his senior season, Hartigan has sliced his time in the 40-yard dash to 4.53 seconds and improved his strength enough to bench press 225 pounds in 25 straight repetitions during a recent workout at Brown in front of NFL scouts. Both are well within the requisite range of speed and strength to play running back in the NFL, and obviously, his mental acuity is off the charts.

"It's been a tough process, but I've enjoyed it," he said of all the predraft poking, prodding and questioning he has endured from scouts around the league. "The things people say may be your weakness you can't change. They mention the level of play in the Ivy League, and there's nothing I can do about that. That's their perception, and it's my job to change that perception.

"I wouldn't change anything I did. Going to Brown was a great experience. There's a lot of pressure being a student athlete at an Ivy League school. There's no place to hide in the classroom. You still have to go to the practices, the meetings and the games. It was a lot of work, but I can't tell you how rewarding it was, what a great time it was. If I can play pro football, that would be so special, too."

And Harvard Law?

"I'll get there," he said, "after football."

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