|From Alabama to Harvard, a tale of an odd recruiting journey|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 06 February 2008 07:25|
By JAY REEVES
Associated Press Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - I've lived in Alabama most of my life, and my two sons learned to say ``Roll Tide'' soon after they mastered ``Mama.''
College football means the Southeastern Conference and stadium crowds the size of cities. Football recruiting is a season all its own, and national signing day is like Christmas morning for fans.
So why in the name of Bear Bryant is one of my boys planning to play football at Harvard, which last year listed only one athlete from Alabama - a male fencer - on all of its 41 varsity rosters?
, yet shorter than a prototypical college quarterback. Academically, he's near the top of his high school class.
The first recruiting letters started coming during Alan's junior year. He got mail from schools he grew up watching on TV: Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia Tech and West Virginia to name a few. Air Force, Navy, Northwestern, Vanderbilt and several smaller schools were particularly interested after we sent highlight DVDs and grade reports from his junior season.
Alan already was narrowing his choices when a note arrived in the mail last summer. It was from a new school with a catch phrase: ``Think Harvard.'' It was signed by former Vanderbilt linebacker Carlton Hall, now the defensive line coach at Harvard.
My wife and I already have a son at the University of Alabama, so we all were thinking Crimson Tide, not Harvard Crimson. But Alabama wasn't interested in Alan, so we broadened our horizons past Tuscaloosa.
Recruiting is all about relationships and possibilities, and Alan started hearing from coach Hall more often. They'd talk on the phone, and the handwritten notes kept coming. Each ended with the same two words, ``Think Harvard.''
As fall headed toward winter, it was harder and harder not to think about Harvard's academics and cupola-topped brick halls beside the Charles River, even though the school operates in an entirely different sports universe than the one Alan knew all his life.
Northeastern football isn't the SEC; more fans attended 'Bama's spring scrimmage last year - 92,000 - than will attend all Ivy League games combined on any given Saturday. Players in the NCAA's top division get athletic scholarships, while the Ivies offer only need-based scholarships and don't use national letters of intent, making signing day a nonevent for Ivy-bound athletes.
Yet the deal was pretty much sealed in November after we attended the Penn game at Harvard Stadium.
The old concrete horseshoe with 31,000 seats isn't a modern football temple, and it was less than half full. But the atmosphere was refreshing after years of big-time college football. There weren't any video screens or TV timeouts. And there was actually an old guy in a full-length raccoon coat.
It was ... collegiate. And combined with the chance to get one of the best educations around, Alan jumped.
``I couldn't think of a reason not to go to Harvard,'' he told coach Hall. He will report to Cambridge, Mass., this summer as a quarterback but could make a move to wide receiver because of his speed.
Harvard Square is 1,200 miles from Birmingham, and Alan might never have considered Harvard or anywhere else had Alabama been interested. But the Tide passed, opening up the door to a world he is only beginning to imagine. Luck? Maybe, in an odd way.
We've heard it all since Alan committed to Harvard: everything from ``Congratulations!'' to ``They'll turn him into a liberal'' and ``It's too cold up there.'' He can think for himself, and we've already bought him a heavy coat and snow boots from L.L. Bean.
So, go Crimson. Think Harvard.