By Scott Sudikoff
There is a long lineage of successful offensive linemen in Harvard football history that have found their way into the National Football League, including Matt Birk '98 and, more recently, Nick Easton '15 and Cole Toner '16. Current Crimson offensive lineman Max Rich has used that to his advantage in his football career, a career he hopes will continue onto the NFL like those before him.
Rich, who hails from Portland, Oregon, did not get his start in organized football until later in life, much like the subject of our cover feature for the season opener and Harvard tight end Anthony Firkser. With his family moving from southern California to Portland before the start of seventh grade, Rich used it as a tool to fit in.
"It was more just hanging out with friends and getting to know people," Rich said of his early days playing football.
It wasn't until Rich's sophomore year of high school that things started to really click and he saw that football was a sport he truly loved to participate in.
"It was always a sport that I enjoyed, but I didn't play it until I moved," Rich said. "I think in high school I would have eventually found my way to it, but the move really helped my transition to a new school and new area."
Since Rich got a late start in the game of football, the learning curve was a steep one, especially for someone manning the offensive line. It took time for him to learn the intracacies of the position.
"It was really tough because we ran the ball all of the time," Rich said of his high school playing days. "The first time I got to learn how to pass block was my freshman year at Harvard.
"Everyone thinks they can play [football] and understand everything going on, but to get to that higher level it takes a lot of studying," he continued.
For every athlete who eventually moves onto a higher level like collegiate athletics, there is usually a watershed moment in time when they realize that they are destined for a bright future.
"Going into my junior year [of high school], I started to realize I was pretty good," Rich modestly explained. "I wouldn't say that I was an all-star, but I realized there was an opportunity when some schools started to look at me because off my size."
Rich currently stands at 6 feet 7 inches tall and weighs in at 315 pounds.
As a program like Harvard has to do, the Crimson were proactive in searching out a talent like Rich, and former Harvard assistant coach Jon Poppe helped to bring Rich to Cambridge.
"Coach Poppe was my recruiting coach, and he was the first guy I talked to from Harvard," Rich said about his initial recruitment. "They sent me junior day stuff, but I couldn't go out for it."
Poppe continued to pursue Rich, and it eventually led to an offer to come play for the Crimson.
"Initially, I was thinking it would be a cool opportunity, and to see what happened out of it," Rich said of Harvard's interest. "It wasn't until they offered me that I realized it's a good school and you can't beat the academics."
When it comes to the move from high school to college, there is a tough transition period for every student, and it was no different for a student-athlete like Rich.
"Everything was so much harder that I thought it would be, from the academics to the football," said Rich. "It's such a cliché to say that everything speeds up, but you come from being one of the better players in your high school to instantly being one of the worst on your college team."
When speaking to this year's senior class, one can clearly see the personal connection these teammates share.
"It was great when we got on campus to meet new friends. You don't really have a choice," said Rich about the early days in Cambridge. "The upperclassmen know what you're going through, but the other freshmen are the ones experiencing it, so we really built a bond by the end of freshman year."
The success of Harvard's offensive line has been a continued asset for Rich and his development. He points to three players who graduated last year, Anthony Fabiano, Toner, and Adam Redmond, as big influences in his college career.
"Fabs was the guy who hosted me on my official visit and was my roommate at freshman camp. Red is an influence because we played left tackle together, so he helped me every day in practice, and Cole helped me at right tackle when I was a freshman."
All three of these influences on Rich have graduated into the NFL.
As an offensive lineman, Rich has to deal with defensive teammates trying to get the better of him in practice, including his roommate and defensive lineman Miles McCollum.
"I love going against my roommate Miles," said Rich. "We've both made each other better overall, and he's shifted all around the defensive line, so it's always been fun to go against him."
Another consistent strong point of Harvard football, outside of the offensive line, has been the man in charge, Tim Murphy, The Thomas Stephenson Family Head Coach for Harvard Football.
"When a coach has been there a long time, he's generally winning," Rich said of Murphy. "You love when your coach is staying there because he loves the program."
When you ask Murphy about his opinion of Rich, it is a glowing recommendation.
"Max is an outstanding offensive lineman in the mold of recent NFL signees Cole Toner, Anthony Fabiano, and Adam Redmond. He is long, athletic, and physical and, more importantly, he is a great person."
No college athlete likes to look too far ahead into the "real world," but for Rich his hopes are simple.
"A year from now, it would be a blast to play in the NFL, and I'm prepared to work really hard for that goal."
Rich will have former teammates and friends to look to for motivation in that regard with Easton, Fabiano, Redmond, and Toner all seeing time on NFL rosters this year.
"I will use them a lot as motivation and as a resource," Rich said. "They've taught me a lot already."
Firkser, who relies on Rich's blocking ability to make plays happen down the field, knows the importance of Rich at the left tackle position.
"Max is a great leader for our offensive line," said Firkser. "He'll hold the line accountable since it's where our offense starts and it holds the most importance."
At the end of all of it, it comes back relationships that Rich and his teammates have built.
"The Ivy League titles are great, but the relationships we have in our class will play the most significant role [in my life] over the next 20 years."