INDIANAPOLIS - Ryan Fitzpatrick will return to school next week, trying to catch up on the new semester at Harvard.
He will graduate in June with a degree in economics. But these days, the Gilbert resident is simply a quarterback trying to make the NFL.
"Football," Fitzpatrick said, "is the most important thing in my life right now."
The problem is Harvard isn’t exactly known for producing NFL prospects.
There have been Ivy League quarterbacks of recent vintage. Jay Fiedler, who started the last few years in Miami, went to Dartmouth. Princeton’s Jason Garrett was a backup for many years in Dallas.
But the last Ivy League quarterback drafted was Columbia’s John Witkowski, a sixth-round pick of Detroit in 1984.
"Everyone (in the NFL) is looking for a reason not to like me," Fitzpatrick said.
He has tried to balance football and school since the beginning of the year. At both the East-West Shrine game and the Hula Bowl — a pair of postseason all-star games — Fitzpatrick not only played but then took proctored final exams after each game. He prepared for the combine by working out with former NFL quarterback Zeke Bratkowski in Atlanta, but afterward, it will be time for school again as he waits for the April draft.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me," Fitzpatrick said. "But I will have that Harvard degree in my back pocket."
Fitzpatrick wanted to go to a Pac-10 school like Arizona State or California coming out of Highland High School. Eastern Washington offered him his one scholarship, so he chose the lofty and expensive education at Harvard.
"I’ve got an incredible amount of money to pay back my parents," he quipped.
Maybe an NFL paycheck will help, although the lack of serious competition hurts Fitzpatrick in the NFL’s eyes, and his play was not stellar in the Shrine and Hula games. But at least he earned an invitation to the combine and a chance to work out next to the rest of the quarterbacks.
"He chose to go to Harvard for all the right reasons, I’m sure," former Cardinals quarterback coach Geep Chryst said, "but he is in the door now.
"You can assume certain things: That he is intelligent enough to handle the game, that he is a pretty good guy. Now he has to show those physical skills."
Fitzpatrick hasn’t totally ignored a future outside of football. Thanks to his Highland basketball ties with Danny Ainge’s sons, Fitzpatrick last summer called up Ainge — the executive director of basketball operations for the Boston Celtics — and asked him if he had any internships available.
Ainge said yes, and Fitzpatrick worked for the Celtics. Now, he said, he’d like to work in the front office of a pro sports team.
Not surprisingly, he’d like the team to be in the NFL. It’d be a good start if he could play in the league first.
"The draft is such a crapshoot for me," Fitzpatrick said. "All I want is an opportunity to go to camp and compete."