By Curtis Eichelberger, Bloomberg News
Sept. 25 (Bloomberg) -- James Williams, like most all-star college football players, says he knows he has a bright future. As a Harvard University student, he thought it would be in law school, not the National Football League.
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Williams, a 6-foot-5, 295-pound senior offensive tackle, and Brown University defensive tackle David Howard are good enough to become the rare Ivy Leaguers in the NFL, according to football scouts and analysts. This season eight of the league's 1,696 active players come from the conference that is known more for producing presidents than professional athletes.
Ivy League players -- who don't get sports scholarships -- need to set themselves apart every game because there's more talent on college football's bigger stages like the Big 12, Big Ten and Southeastern Conference, scouts said.
"They don't need to play well, they need to dominate," said Joe Hortiz, the Baltimore Ravens' director of college scouting. "They have to show me they are the best player on the field, game after game."
Williams, of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, added 60 pounds to his frame the past three seasons. He's been All-Ivy League and All-American twice while attending the Cambridge, Massachusetts, school. Now he's thinking about playing football for a living.
"As my body has grown, I've also become more athletic," Williams said in a telephone interview. "I can always go to law school later."
Financially, he might be making the right move.
A first-year attorney at a U.S. law firm will earn an average $125,000, according to the National Association for Law Placement, while a fifth-round NFL draft selection will average $500,000 next season, according to the NFL union.
Howard is a 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive tackle from Columbia, Maryland, who was a preseason All-American and first- team Ivy League player last year. He had 6 1/2 quarterback sacks and forced three fumbles as a junior at Brown, in Providence, Rhode Island.
Williams and Howard may face each other tonight when their teams meet at Harvard Stadium.
Another potential future NFL player is University of Pennsylvania senior cornerback Chris Wynn, 21, a two-time All- Ivy selection. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound cornerback had five interceptions in each of the past two seasons and his 26.1-yard kickoff return average ranked 14th in the nation last year.
Marcellus Wiley, who played defensive end at Columbia University, said that while some Ivy Leaguers look like NFL players, they'll probably need to play in a collegiate All-Star game before anyone is convinced.
"It's a fashion show when you go to the NFL combine," Wiley, a 34-year-old who played 10 NFL seasons and is now an analyst for Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN said. "You have to show up with the measurables looking the part. The scouts still aren't going to judge them based on how they beat up future accountants and lawyers at Princeton and Brown."
Ivy League Count
Of the eight Ivy Leaguers in the NFL now, Harvard and Brown each have three; the others are from Cornell and Princeton universities. The Ivy League's other schools are Dartmouth College and Yale University.
The league has had more luck in politics: Every U.S. president starting with George H.W. Bush in 1989 went to an Ivy League school.
Williams and Howard are legitimate low-round draft picks, while Wynn is more likely to sign a free-agent contract before training camp, Hortiz said.
The most recent Ivy Leaguer drafted was Zak DeOssie of Brown, who was selected in the fourth round in 2007. He's now a special teams player for the New York Giants.
Two Ivy Leaguers have been selected in the first round since the NFL and now-defunct American Football League began holding a combined draft in 1967. Columbia quarterback Marty Domres was chosen by the San Diego Chargers with the ninth overall pick in the 1969 draft, and Yale running back Calvin Hill was taken by the Dallas Cowboys with the 24th overall pick, the same year.
Ivy League players won't get much time to prove themselves in an NFL training camp, said Ross Tucker, 30, a former offensive lineman at Princeton who spent seven seasons in the NFL with the Washington Redskins, New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Cowboys. They will need to adjust to bigger, faster players quickly.
"I made a favorable first impression on Marty Schottenheimer from the first mini-camp," said Tucker, who will cover three Ivy League games each for the Versus network and YES Network this season. "It's critically important that you kind of show you belong right away. You have to flash that you have a shot. Otherwise, they will lose interest in you."
Tucker said Williams is an athletic tackle with long arms, and he runs well. Howard, is a "world-beater" physically, though he needs a big year to convince pro scouts he's ready, Tucker said. Wynn is speedy and has been dominant in the Penn secondary.
Williams's father, Martin, an oral surgeon, and his mother Jennifer, a critical care surgeon, have told their son they'll support his efforts to pursue the NFL even if it means delaying law school.
"I think I'd be gaining a lot more than I'd be giving up," the tackle said. "This has been a dream, too."