Division I-AA leading rusher also Rhodes finalist

Updated: November 10, 2005, 5:44 PM ET
Associated Press

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 Oxford.

"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 skip."

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 those slots.

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 bottom.

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 Levitt.

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.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press