By Scott Sudikoff
Harvard senior defensive lineman Brogan McPartland is coming off a 2018 season in which he led the Crimson with four sacks. The applied mathematics concentrator from Stephens City, Va., is ready for a stellar senior campaign, but he is also reflecting on how he got to this point in his life.
For many kids growing up, the street in front of their house is where the love of certain sports was born, and the same can be said for an 8-year-old McPartland.
"We were just trying to find things to do," McPartland explained. "I guess when you're a kid you just end up in the street playing a lot of sports and I guess we ended up playing football one day."
The love of playing the sport in the street progressed into little league football in the fifth grade. Although more structured than streetball, the sport at that age can still be a little rough around the edges.
"Still a bunch of dads getting off work [to coach], while all the kids are wearing tattered old shirts," said McPartland. "I wore my dad's old tattered shirts and put those over my shoulder pads."
McPartland's father, Myles, was a college basketball player at Providence College, but still had a love of football that he helped instill in Brogan.
"He played [football] in high school but never anything beyond that," McPartland pointed out. "He loves football, and always has been very supportive. He'd help out in every way, but was never involved in organized coaching."
As is the case with many high-level athletes, McPartland played multiple sports growing up, including baseball.
"That was one of those things that had more parental influence," McPartland described. "Even though my dad was a basketball player, for whatever reason his favorite sport was baseball. We'd go to the batting cage, but I didn't really like it."
There was another thing that McPartland's father was able to pass down though; the weight room.
"My dad's a big gym freak and when I was young, he put together a little weight room in the basement," explained McPartland. "I was there working out pretty hard in eighth grade and that started changing things."
Since McPartland's middle school did not have a football team to play on, he suited up for the high school freshman and junior varsity teams while only in eighth grade. After starting his playing career at tight end and linebacker, he eventually moved on to defensive end.
"I played linebacker the first couple years of high school," said McPartland. "Then I put on a lot more weight, grew a good amount and switched to D-end."
As mentioned before, McPartland wasn't the biggest fan of baseball and heading into high school, he decided to exclusively focus on football.
"It just made the most sense for me [at the time]," said McPartland. "If I could go back and do it again, I probably would have at least run track."
McPartland's journey to Cambridge began in earnest during his sophomore year in high school.
"I had a really solid sophomore year, all-district and things like that," McPartland referenced. "Then between sophomore and junior year I grew like two inches and put on 50 pounds. I started to fit the prototype of what a college linebacker or defensive end is."
Everything appeared to be on the right track for McPartland until he was sidelined for the entirety of his junior season due to a broken leg.
"So that kind of put a wrench in things," McPartland chuckled while saying. "There was then a lot more pressure on my senior season because a lot of recruiting is already done by then."
Even with the setback, McPartland kept his eye on attaining the goal of playing college football. Going into the summer before his senior season, he pinpointed the Ivy League as a place he wanted to end up.
"I think I knew I wanted to go to Harvard, or at least an Ivy League school in the summer after missing my junior season," said McPartland.
McPartland would attend a camp at both Harvard and Yale that summer. Going into his final year of school, McPartland had not yet been offered a spot by any school, so he had to play a bit of catch-up in the recruiting process.
"I think I was pretty naive back then and I don't think I looked at the whole picture," said McPartland about Harvard. "I knew that they were good at football and had good academics. That sounds cool, I want to do that!"
McPartland's official visit came during Harvard's 53-27 victory against Brown on Sept. 26, 2015.
"A lot of things started clicking," said McPartland. "It's a different feel and I still feel it to this day standing out there in the fall. This place is pretty special in that way."
Once at Harvard, McPartland, like many underclassmen, had to wait his turn as he did not see game action as a freshman. After working his way into eight games as a sophomore, he had a break-out junior campaign leading the team in sacks and ranking second in tackles for loss.
Of course, there's always room for improvement.
"I'm really trying to clean up my pass rush," McPartland pointed out. "As much as speed is important to be a good pass rusher, it's a lot about technique. I practice things that I know are going to be helpful and that's a big thing for me; technique."
"I am very grateful to Brogan because of his circuitous path to Harvard," said The Thomas Stephenson Family Head Coach for Harvard Football Tim Murphy. "That same will and determination has allowed him to ascend to the top echelon of defensive ends in the Ivy League."
Now amid his senior season, McPartland can reflect on the journey he took to reach Harvard, and the journey he has been on since being in Cambridge. Time to reflect on what he will remember most.
"It's got to be the relationships with the guys on the team [that I'll remember most]," exclaimed McPartland. "It's really hard to replicate these types of relationships [outside of football]."