It would be hard to script his career, because it was filled with unlikelihoods. But when Nick Hartigan interviewed for a Rhodes Scholarship and won an Ivy championship within 24 hours, it capped an amazing career.
Nick Hartigan's football career at Brown ended in storybook fashion, but it was an ending that nobody could have foreseen when he was first recruited during his junior year of high school by Brown assistant coach Frank Sheehan. "I wish that I could tell you that I predicted Nick Hartigan's success but I would be lying," Sheehan concedes. "If I had that answer I would write a book on recruiting the great ones."
His freshman year Hartigan was sixth on the depth chart and got only a handful of carries the entire season. That means his accomplishments are even more impressive, considering his productivity was limited to three years instead of four.
He won the starting job as a sophomore and began that three-year assault on opposing defenses and the Ivy record book. By the end of his career he had made the top 10 in several statistical categories, including number of rushing yards in a season (second, 1,727) and career (fourth, 4,492), carries in a season (second, 323) and rushing touchdowns in a season (second, 20). He graduated with the most rushing touchdowns in an Ivy career (52) and most career points (324), but those marks were surpassed by Clifton Dawson of Harvard last fall.
He led not just the Ivies, but the nation, in rushing during his sophomore and senior seasons. For his efforts he was named first-team All-America by every major outlet as well as first-team Academic All-America. He became just the second player in League history to garner both honors in the same year, joining former Yalie Rich Diana.
Both his coaches and Hartigan himself easily identify the source of his dominance -- field vision and durability. The former came by nature, but the latter he attributes to his family. Watching the example set by his family instilled in the young Nick an uncompromising work ethic. "My grandfather worked as a teamster until he was 80 years old. That's what we did... we went to work. In my family, we didn't sit out." Beginning in high school and continuing at Brown, Hartigan never missed a game or a practice.
That dedication carried over to his academics as well. He maintained a 3.9 average, was a two-time Academic All-America selection, and was named the CoSIDA/ESPN The Magazine National Academic All-American of the Year, the pinnacle of academic recognition for a student-athlete. Perhaps most prestigiously, he was also a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship. "Nick had a tremendous passion to be the very best on the football field and in the classroom," assesses Coach Sheehan. "The key was he never let one interfere with the other."
He managed to put in the football hours -- not just the practices but the film sessions and training room sessions as well -- and still have time to excel academically by applying a simple formula. "I just worked all of the time," he sums up, "but the great part of being an Ivy athlete is that everyone is working together on the field and studying also. It is a lot of work but it's also a lot of fun."
His academic and athletic worlds peaked simultaneously in November 2005 for one frantic, high-stakes weekend when he had the opportunity to win a Rhodes Scholarship and Ivy League title on the same day. Hartigan flew to Pittsburgh on Friday for a final round of Rhodes interviews then jumped on a plane to New York City to join his teammates for a game against Columbia the next day that would determine the Ivy League Championship. In the game he scored three touchdowns to lead Brown to its first outright Ivy title. Although he did not win a Rhodes, the weekend stands out as the most memorable of his career. He counts winning the Ivy Championship as "far and away" the most outstanding of his collegiate achievements.
The icing was his unanimous choice for the Asa S. Bushnell Cup as the Ivy League Player of the Year. He also was selected by the New England Football Writers Association as the winner of the Harry Agganis/Harold Zimman Award as the outstanding Division I senior football player in New England. He was the first player in Brown football history to receive the award. Nationally, he was a final-three selection for the Walter Payton Award as the nation's top player in Division I-AA.
And in addition to his All-America designations he was awarded a National Football Foundation Scholarship -- one of only 16 given annually, and a competitive NCAA Post Graduate Scholarship. He was lauded by the Providence Journal as "the poster boy for Ivy football."
Hartigan raves about his collegiate experience. "I absolutely love Brown. I could not possibly have had a better academic experience, the professors and administrators there are wonderful, football was great, and I really love the city of Providence.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for the other men and women who played athletics for Ivy League schools, and for the coaching staffs that have to go all over the country and find these kids."
During his senior year Hartigan had several competing options for post-collegiate life. At the time that the Rhodes scholarship was a possibility he had to rank that as his first choice, reasoning that he would not pass on that once in a lifetime opportunity. Playing in the NFL was a realistic goal and would be a dream come true. If neither of these two worked out he ended up with a pretty fair third option when he was accepted to Harvard Law School.
Although he was not drafted Hartigan was signed by the New York Jets and attended training camp before being released. Thus, fall of 2006 found him in Cambridge. Hartigan admits that he got no sympathy from friends when he ultimately had to settle for Option No. 3. "Nobody felt sorry for me that I had to go to Harvard Law School."
He retains his fitness and an agent just in case NFL Europe expresses an interest in his services but he is currently fully focused on his second semester of law school and pursuing a career in criminal law as a public servant. Hartigan foresees a career beginning, perhaps, in the State Attorney's office or Justice Department but is also interested in elected office in the future.
Although he surprised everyone by becoming a two-time nation-leading rusher, it wouldn't come as a surprise to someday see Hartigan run for the nation's highest office. He has yet to find a limit.
— Meredith Rainey Valmon