Senior Stories: James Duberg

Senior Stories: James Duberg

By Scott Sudicoff 

Harvard senior defensive tackle James Duberg got a late start with organized football, but once he hit the field as a sophomore in high school, his career took off quickly.

Duberg grew up in Chula Vista, California, but because of his size he wasn't allowed to play Pop Warner football with kids his age. Instead he found other activities to keep him busy. 

"I would have loved to play [football] with my friends, but we all knew I couldn't," explained Duberg. "Football was something I had my sights set on for high school."

Duberg kept occupied by playing various other sports like soccer, baseball, and he also learned tae kwon do.

Although he couldn't play organized football with his friends growing up, he found his love for the sport by watching on television. 

"I could see the difference in camaraderie compared to other sports," said Duberg about what enticed him about the sport. "I was drawn to it because you could see the energy and the fire that players played with."

Growing up near San Diego, Duberg spent a lot of time watching the San Diego Chargers and standout linebacker Junior Seau. 

"I always watched Junior Seau playing for the Chargers. Watching him run sideline to sideline, giving his all every single play - the game was life to him," Duberg described. "Watching a guy that was so passionate about it really drove me to believe that there was something special about it, and I couldn't wait to experience it."

Duberg's first organized football game came in his sophomore season at the age 15 at Bonita Vista High School, as he had missed his freshman year due to injury. This made it tougher for him to transition into the game.

"It was very frustrating at times as most guys understood everything, but I had never played before so there were instincts that I lacked," Duberg explained. "I had to make up for it with being a lot quicker than everyone else because I couldn't diagnose plays as quick as guys who had played for five or six years." 

While jumping into high school football, Duberg continued a baseball career that started at an early age. He was able to juggle both with a well-timed schedule.

"I'd play summer baseball and AAU on the weekends, but I would have to sometimes skip practice during the week to make football practices," Duberg said. "It was gratifying, extremely gratifying."

Unfortunately for his baseball career, a shoulder injury affected his throwing, and led him to switch his focus to football. The renewed focus helped him get it when it came to football.

Duberg recalls a story of playing middle linebacker in an extremely close game in his sophomore season.

"I dropped back at a 45-degree angle watching the quarterback's eyes, and I looked to my left and there's a guy coming across the middle," Duberg explained. "I made a dash for him before the ball was even thrown and I connected at the right time."

"It was at that time that everything clicked for me."

It was the spring after his junior season that the ball started rolling towards a college football career as a message was left for him about playing at Harvard.

"I was dumbfounded that I could even have that type of offer," Duberg said. "I didn't know how good I was."

Duberg was good enough to visit the Harvard football camp before his high school senior season.

"I got to meet Coach Murphy on that visit," Duberg explained. "The combination of the coaching staff and the players I met, it all clicked. I could see myself here."

"James has all the tools to become a dominant defensive lineman," said Tim Murphy, The Thomas Stephenson Family Head Coach for Harvard Football, of Duberg. "His work ethic, commitment and loyalty generate tremendous respect within the Harvard football program."


When Duberg first came to campus, he looked to a defensive veteran for advice and motivation, former first team All-Ivy League performer Nnamdi Obukwelu '14.

"Nnamdi was a role model," said Duberg. "His dedication and worth ethic [stood out], and he always kept encouraging me by giving constructive criticism. He was one of the main guys I looked up to."

During his time at Harvard, Duberg has had the ability to improve his game in practice by going up against offensive linemen that now have careers in the NFL like Nick Easton '15 and Cole Toner '16.

"Nick really made me better. I had no choice but to improve my game quickly," explained Duberg. "He never took plays off and he really made me play to my potential. I really attribute my improvement and success to how difficult he made it on me."

Duberg and his teammates are on the path towards a potential fourth-straight Ivy League championship. How do they sustain the success?

"We're always hungry," said Duberg. "It's a clean slate the day last season ends, and it's about never being satisfied. That's one of the driving forces that makes us successful."

When you speak to members of the Harvard football senior class, you get a similar response as to what makes playing in Cambridge so special - the relationships.

"I'll definitely cherish getting after it with the guys at practice every single day," said Duberg. "Looking to your left, and to your right, and knowing that we're giving it our all makes the friendships we've created incredibly special and unbeatable."

The Ivy League stresses a 40-year and not a four-year commitment when it comes to athletics, so it's always appropriate to see what a student-athlete like Duberg has planned for the future.

"This game has a done a lot for me," explained Duberg. "It's one of the big reasons I'm the man I am today, so I'd like to continue playing, and I will do everything in my power to make that happen."

"If my career doesn't continue, I will be grateful that I got to experience something as special as this, and I'll continue on to medical school."

Not a bad back-up plan.