PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- He's the top rusher in Division I-AA, most likely good enough for a shot at the pros. But Brown's Nick Hartigan would gladly set the NFL aside for the chance to study at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.
What he won't do is abandon his teammates with the Ivy League
title on the line.
So, with his two big dreams on a collision course, Hartigan is crafting an ambitious travel plan.
The senior running back has made the finals in the Rhodes selection process and will have to interview Nov. 18 in Pittsburgh
for the scholarship. Then he'll have to jump on a plane for New
York, where Brown plays Columbia in its season finale the following
day; at least a share of the Ivy League title could be on the line.
Afterward, he might have to fly back to Pittsburgh for another round of interviews that night.
But missing the game is not an option, even for a chance at
"These kids are my brothers," said Hartigan, who's averaging
163 yards a game. "I've spent four years killing myself -- we all
have -- to get this Ivy League title. It's not something I can
Hartigan's lucky he even has a chance to both interview and
play: Rhodes committees are famous for refusing to accommodate
scheduling requests. But he caught a break. Unusually, his
selection committee planned to start interviewing some candidates
Friday afternoon. Late Wednesday he got word he could have one of
That means Hartigan will have a shot at one of the two
scholarships being awarded from the Pittsburgh region, out of 32
nationally. He'll be up against a dozen or so other exemplary
finalists in a pool where even his 3.91 GPA could be near the
But he'll get to make his case.
"It's about as great a situation as I could have hoped for,"
said Hartigan, also a candidate for the Draddy Award -- the
"academic Heisman Trophy." "I'm incredibly grateful to them."
Whether he wins or not, Hartigan looks like just the kind of
Renaissance young man diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes had in mind a
century ago when he created the Rhodes Scholarship.
Rhodes' will ordered that recipients "shall not be merely
bookworms" and shall be chosen for their scholastic achievements,
character and "fondness of and success in manly outdoor sports
such as cricket, football and the like."
Over the years, selectees have included Heisman Trophy winner
Pete Dawkins and runner-up Byron White, along with eventual NBA
players -- and members of Congress -- Tom McMillan and Bill Bradley.
The emphasis on sports has declined, but "athletic interest and
success are still relevant," said Elliot Gerson, American
secretary of the Rhodes Trust. "They have not been written out of
the will. If someone demonstrates outstanding athletic success, it
is in his or her favor as other factors are considered."
Hartigan is the biggest reason Brown (7-1, 4-1 Ivy League) is
guaranteed a share of the Ivy title if it wins its last two games;
the Bears play Dartmouth (2-6, 1-4) this Saturday. Last week, he
ran for 192 yards and scored four touchdowns against Yale, winning
conference player of the week for the fifth time. He's rewritten
Brown's record book and will likely finish as the Ivy League's
third all-time leading rusher. Ed Marinaro, a 1971 Heisman Trophy
finalist, tops the list followed by another Cornell back, Chad
But none of Hartigan's achievements on the field would matter
without his stellar academic record -- earned in an era when
big-time college sports have become so intense that Gerson says it
is practically impossible for a star in a marquee sport to assemble
the wide-ranging credentials a Rhodes Committee are after.
About a half-dozen or so varsity athletes are still usually
among the 32 American scholars selected each year -- many of them
standouts and some even Olympians. But generally they have come
from sports like swimming and track, where it is still possible for
a committed college athlete to do other things. That has become
harder in football, even at a I-AA program.
"I've pretty much been working from the day I got out of my
parents' car four years ago August," Hartigan said this week, on a
day when had been up for a 7 a.m. walkthrough, film time, class,
practice and proctoring study hall for the team's freshmen. He
double-majored in history and political science, and also ran a
deck-washing business back home in Northern Virginia.
He first learned about the Rhodes by reading "A Sense of Where
You Are," a book about Bradley that his father gave him for
inspiration. Hartigan wants to study health policy -- examining why
Great Britain has managed to create a national health insurance
system but the United States has not -- with an eye toward a career
in law, policy or, perhaps, elective office.
Pro scouts have stopped in regularly to watch film on Hartigan,
and if Oxford doesn't work out he will likely have his shot at the
NFL. It's a good consolation prize -- and at least he won't have to
wonder what might have been.