Oct 21, 2016
By Scott Sudikoff
For Anthony Firkser, football may not have been his first sports passion, but luckily for Harvard he developed a love for it.
"Basketball was my first priority," explained Firkser, a Manalapan, New Jersey native. "Before high school, and into high school, football was on the second tier."
Firkser did not start playing organized tackle football until his sophomore year of high school at Manalapan High. He initially joined the team to play side-by-side with his older brother, Josh.
"My parents pushed it a little bit too," Firkser said. "They thought it'd be a fun experience to play with my brother."
It may have been that extra little push from his family that led his athletic career down the path towards reaching the Harvard football team. While playing for his high school, Firkser developed a strong relationship with his wide receiver coach, Tim Fleming, who played collegiately at the University of Nevada.
"He helped build a strong foundation for my knowledge of football," Firkser said of Fleming. "He invested a lot of his time in developing me as a player, and being a really good friend to help me along."
For Firkser, transitioning into football at the high school level was a big learning experience, and he credits Fleming for guiding him along the way.
"The rate at which he could process what I taught him and execute it on the football field was unlike anything I've ever seen in all my years of playing and coaching football," Fleming recalled. "In every game he played, he was the best player on the field."
Even though Firkser was learning the game of football at a rapid pace, basketball was still his main focus. During the spring and summer months he would travel throughout the east coast playing in AAU, but the summer heading into his senior year is when things started to change.
"I made the decision with my family and coaches that I was going to try out some of the big school football camps," Firkser explained. "I received letters from Rutgers and Boston College, and the recruiting mail was a big step that lit the spark."
It was at the Boston College camp where Firkser first came into contact with former Harvard assistant coach Jon Poppe.
"He pulled me aside, asked what schools I was looking at, what my ACT scores were," Firkser detailed. "From that point, they started recruiting me pretty hard."
Of course when it comes to Division I athletics, everyone knows of the rigors of being an athlete, but when it comes to the Ivy League, there is the added pressure of top-notch academics.
"A big thought in the back of my head of going to an Ivy League school was, would I be able to handle the workload of school and Division I athletics?" Firkser said.
When it came down to decision time for Firkser, there were a couple of big reasons that led him to the Crimson. One was the prestige of Harvard, but the other has been a staple of Harvard football for over 20 years, Tim Murphy.
"Coach had a strong interest in my recruiting process," Firkser said of Murphy. "He told me to go where I want, and to not push myself into a situation where coaches won't want me."
As a receiver in high school, Firkser saw that Harvard's offense fit into his play style.
"I was scared I was being recruited for tight end/h-back position," Firkser explained. "I didn't know if I could fit into that role, but he [Murphy] did a good job recruiting me, realizing what I could do."
"Anthony is a tremendously dependable and versatile tight end/h-back in the mold of some great ones over the past ten years," Murphy said. "If he takes the next step, he can become a legitimate NFL prospect."
Fleming, Firkser's mentor and former coach, agrees that Harvard was the location for him to continue his academic and athletic career.
"The truth is, the best place for Anthony to end up was Harvard," said Fleming. "I find it far more impressive to play football and graduate from one of the greatest universities on the planet than to play football at a Division I school."
During his time at Harvard, Firkser credits some teammates with helping his development, pointing out linebacker Eric Ryan specifically.
"When we were freshmen we became close by going up against each other [in practice], Firkser said. "He's a little more athletic than me, which helped me grow as a player."
For Firkser and his teammates, winning football games has become regularity at Harvard. What do he and his teammates do to keep their eyes on the prize and not get complacent?
"A lot of not losing focus has to do with the camaraderie among the players," Firkser explained. "We hold each other accountable, and when you're on the field, you're out there for the team.
"You don't want to be the reason a play goes wrong," Firkser added.
For every Ivy League football athlete, the competition is much different than what they experience at the high school level. Obviously you are battling on the gridiron with athletes who are going through some of the same rigors as you, but with the conference not participating in postseason play, the Ivy League championship is the ultimate goal each season.
"It makes every game that much more important," said Firkser. "Slip-up in one game, and that's the whole season."
The competitiveness of the Ancient Eight was on display in 2015, as the year ended in a three-way tie for the championship.
"There's always a new team that has a good recruiting class that starts stepping up," Firkser added. "Every game has that extra importance."
Firkser's career at Harvard may be winding down, but he has his sights set on future football goals.
"I'd like to get a chance to play at the next level," Firkser explained. "I know it's a big step, but I've been putting in a lot of work into my body, so if I can get the opportunity, I'll play as long as I can.
Firkser may share that goal with a large portion of college athletes, but a unique experience he will always have will be his time in Cambridge.
"Every guy here has something special about them," Firkser said of his teammates. "Something to look up to. Coach Murphy does really find some of the best people to be around.
"That's what I'll miss and remember the most, my teammates."