Bears' Hartigan is a student in and of the game

Bears' Hartigan is a student in and of the game

Sept. 23, 2005

by Jim Donaldson

The Providence Journal

September 23, 2005

PROVIDENCE -- You certainly should be impressed by the numbers Nick Hartigan has racked up on the football field for Brown University.

His 1,498 rushing yards as a sophomore in 2003 are a school record. He led the nation that year with an average of 149.8 rushing yards per game. He set another school record last season by rushing for 17 touchdowns. He carried the ball 323 times in 2004, also a Brown record, and second only to Ed Marinaro of Cornell in Ivy League history, while gaining 1,263 yards.

But the number that is most impressive, the one that truly is reason to sit up, take notice and shake your head in amazement and admiration is Hartigan's 3.91 grade-point average while double-majoring in political science and history.

Not only is he a candidate for the Walter Payton Award -- the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy for Division I-AA players -- but he also is a candidate for a Rhodes Scholarship.

"I can honestly say he's one of the most impressive people I've ever met."

That's not Hartigan's football coach, Phil Estes, speaking. It's one of his political science professors, Jennifer Lawless.

In addition to advising Hartigan on his senior thesis, which he describes as being about "the alliance between Catholics and evangelical Christians in the political arena from the (John) Kennedy era to the present," and will run between 60 and 100 pages in length, Lawless also is a candidate in the state Democratic primary for the congressional seat held by Rep. James Langevin.

"Every assignment he's ever turned in has been in excellent," Lawless said. "Every deadline he's had, he has met with high quality work and enthusiasm.

"He's so well-rounded and incredibly humble. He's the kind of person you'd want in class, as a colleague, as a next-door neighbor -- the kind you'd want your daughter to marry."

Estes speaks of Hartigan in similarly glowing terms.

"He's such a good person. I'd love for my son to be just like Nick Hartigan," Estes said. "He has dedicated himself to being the best in the classroom, and the best on the field."

Hartigan truly is a student-athlete, although he unhesitatingly says that, when it's time for football, he's an athlete-student.

"I have time in my day, every day, when it's football time," he said. "When it's time to practice, or look at film, or go to meetings, there's nothing else going on for me except football. It's something I love.

"It's not just the sport that's fun, it's the guys. There's not one yard I gain that doesn't involve every guy on the offense. That creates a family atmosphere. Those relationships mean a lot to me.

"When I'm not doing those things, then it's time for me to get my schoolwork done. It's not easy. It's a lot of work. But I can do it through time-management and being able to focus. I didn't come to Brown just to play football. I came here to work hard academically and hopefully do well."

He has done exceptionally well, both academically and athletically -- in large part because he works just as hard in class as he does on the field.

"The same qualities, the same drive, that leads him to excellence on the football field," said Lawless, "is what leads him to work hard in the classroom."

"Because I have to be really intense on the football field," Hartigan said, "it's not that hard for me to be just as intense about what I'm studying. It becomes a habit."

If Hartigan doesn't go to Oxford next year on a Rhodes Scholarship -- he says he's "kind of embarrassed" that people know he's applying, because it's so difficult to win one, and the odds are against him -- he plans on going to law school.

He has spent the last three summers interning at different law firms in the Washington, D.C., area -- he worked at the prestigious Williams and Connelly firm after his sophomore year, and this past summer was in the office of John Carroll, a former all-Ivy soccer player for Brown in 1985 who practices criminal law in Hartigan's hometown of Fairfax, Va.

In addition, Hartigan continued to run the deck-cleaning business he established after his senior year in high school at W.T. Woodson, where he was all-district in both football and basketball, and also was a two-time winner of the English department's writing award.

"A buddy of mine and I were going to do carpet-cleaning," Hartigan said, starting to chuckle. "But my parents said no. They thought we'd destroy carpets, and they didn't want to pay for the insurance.

"So we went to an equipment-rental place, looked around, and decided to get a power washer. We printed up fliers, advertised on the internet, went door-to-door. We drew up a business plan, and called ourselves Collegiate Decks.

"That first year, it was just myself and two friends. The second year, we were able to hire some kids. We were celebrating, because we figured we'd be rolling in cash. It didn't quite work out the way we thought it would."

One of the kids who "didn't quite work out" was Hartigan's younger brother, Andy.

"I wound up firing him," Hartigan said. "He was complaining, saying the jobs he was assigned were taking 90 minutes longer than they should have. When my parents found out I'd fired him, they were upset and made me hire him back."

Hartigan can chalk that up as a lesson in local politics.

He learned another while cleaning the deck of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

"My buddy was talking to him about political science," Hartigan said, "so I sauntered over, figuring I knew a thing or two. Justice Kennedy said: 'It's all gobbledy-gook.' "

Hartigan found that more amusing than discouraging.

"Political science," he said, "is something that has interested me from the time I came to Brown."

When he's not studying his playbook, he's reading extensively to prepare his senior thesis.

"It's a daunting task," he said. "I have about 15 books on my desk in my room right now. I tend to be long-winded when I'm writing. My advisor is going to have to cut me down."

As tacklers have found it, the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder is hard to cut down.

"He's a workhorse," said Estes, who has given him the ball an average of nearly 30 times a game over the past two seasons.

Hartigan thrives on work, in both sports and studies. And, when he's through running the football for the Bears, he'd like to run for office.

"I'd like to get involved in politics on the national level," he said.

But that's in the future. At the moment, Hartigan's top priority is beating Harvard in the Ivy opener for both schools tomorrow afternoon at Harvard Stadium.

"It's a big game, no question," he said. "It's one we've been focusing on since the end of last year. There are very few Ivy games that aren't decided by close margins. There's not a huge difference in talent between most teams, so it comes down to execution and desire."

In which case, you have to like the chances of Hartigan and the Bears.