Written Senior Perspectives: Ryan Halvorson

Written Senior Perspectives: Ryan Halvorson

The 2017 Senior Perspectives is the 12th in a series of annual collections. Senior captains and representatives of teams at Harvard have been invited to contribute viewpoints based on personal experience from both their senior seasons and full varsity careers at Harvard.

Ryan Halvorson, Football
Hometown: Coronado, Calif.
Concentration: Engineering Sciences
House Affiliation: Mather

Just a few weeks ago, I stood before a room of Harvard professors, advisors, and students, ready to present and defend my capstone engineering thesis—a basketball sleeve that analyzes muscular activation and biomechanics to help shooters develop their technique. Since these presentations play a significant role in our evaluation as we prepare to graduate, most students are nervous to have their work criticized by the faculty reviewers. But that wasn’t on my mind. 

I was less concerned with the opinions of the faculty reviewers and more nervous that Coach Murphy’s secretary had called me earlier that morning to tell me my head coach had rescheduled his morning meetings to attend my presentation. 

Sure enough, he was the first person in attendance, early even by Harvard football standard time (15 minutes before EST). I wasn’t the only one nervous either—my teammates who came to watch me considered turning back around once they saw the only open seats were in Coach’s row. 

As I continued to give my talk and fielded questions, I did so with my teammates and Coach Murphy in mind. Just as my coach had been the first to arrive, he was also the first to congratulate me when the presentation was over, before returning to his day packed with coaching, recruiting, and meetings. 

The nerves I felt are proof that he effectively motivates his players to excel. His attendance at my thesis presentation demonstrates how committed he is to the success of his players. My teammates in the audience are proof of the cohesiveness we feel and of the support we provide for each other.

In short, my team’s attendance at my thesis presentation is what makes Harvard athletics great. 

Head coaches who demand excellence from their student-athletes are the cornerstone of any successful collegiate athletic program. In addition to his role as head coach, Coach Murphy also acts as the position coach for the tight ends. I’ve spent hundreds of hours in his office over the last four years watching film, learning routes, falling asleep, drawing stick figures demonstrating “power angles”, and sometimes literally standing up, moving chairs, and practicing techniques. This hard work is paying off in probably more ways than I’ll ever realize. 

In four years as a Harvard tight end, I’ve scored four touchdowns, including one against Yale in November. I’ve personally split time with more NFL players (four) than probably anybody in our school’s history—including last year’s NFL leader in touchdowns for a tight end, and also a converted long snapper who saw time in the NFC semifinals with Seattle. My graduating class went on to become one of the most successful in the record books, totaling 35 wins to only five losses. This record on the field is direct evidence of both the quality of coaching and the strong relationships among players in the program.

Naturally, any coach wants football to come first all the time. But academically, Coach Murphy has to be one of the most supportive in the country. During my senior season, he helped me schedule flights for interviews at medical schools, working around our practices and prioritizing my future when unavoidable conflicts did occur. Before The Game my junior year, he arranged for me to take a two-hour molecular biology exam on the bus to Yale because it had to be taken concurrently with the rest of the class by rule. There can’t be many other NCAA Division I football programs that would be supportive of a player’s decision to study engineering, do laboratory research, or apply to medical school, let alone give him time on the field. 

A question often asked in my interviews last fall was how I managed to get through the premedical requirements despite being on the football team. I’d respond that I actually got through the requirements because I was on the football team. Who else has a support network of 110 teammates to pick them up when they fall, coaches to push them farther when they succeed, and a head coach who comes to a thesis presentation?