I am really excited to announce that Justin Melo has joined the team here at MCM as Senior Draft Analyst. He will primarily be covering the draft for us, but also using his #sources in the industry to bring us awesome pieces like this. Follow Justin on Twitter @JustinM_NFL.
In part one of our two-part exclusive interview with Tennessee Titans tight end Anthony Firkser, the Harvard alum sat down with us to discuss his Ivy League days, his background as a point guard on the Manalapan high school basketball team, and the wide ranging emotions he’s faced this year from being cut to being elevated to the active roster. Check back for part two of our conversation with Firkser later this week.
JM: I want to start off our conversation by taking it back to your high school days. You played point guard on the basketball team and you averaged 21.3 points per game and 7.6 assists as well. You don’t really look like a point guard to me, but those are some good numbers.
AF: I was probably about 40 pounds lighter back then (laughs). Basketball was the first sport I ever played. That was sort of my introduction to sports. Basketball was my first love and I didn’t get into football until my sophomore year of high school. I definitely spent a lot of time playing basketball. I had some Division I offers to play basketball. I had better opportunities to play football in college though. I decided to go that route instead.
JM: Did you have a favorite basketball player growing up?
AF: Not really. I didn’t follow it that closely. I definitely liked LeBron James though. His pure athleticism and overall build is something I’ve always admired. I think he’s just a dominant force out there. I would try to emulate him growing up (laughs).
JM: You mentioned that you didn’t begin playing football until your sophomore year. Was being a multi-sport athlete always part of the plan?
AF: That was definitely the plan growing up. When I went to Harvard, the football coach said that he would let me try out for the basketball team if I wanted to explore that route as well. I had the opportunity to play both at Harvard. I always loved playing different sports. I played hockey growing up as well. My time was basically spread across playing all different sports growing up. I was also aware that doing that at a higher level such as college would have been much more difficult. It’s tough to keep up with numerous sports at that point. I knew I had to pick one at some point. I could have been a practice squad player on the Harvard basketball team but we all agreed it wasn’t worth taking me away from the football team. After my freshmen year, I was 100% focused on football. I put basketball behind me at that point.
JM: You played hockey as well? That’s interesting. I’m from Toronto, Canada. Hockey is religion out here.
AF: Yeah, I grew up playing hockey as well. I started with road hockey and from there, I started playing a little ice hockey. I dropped it around my sophomore junior year when I started playing football. Three sports would have been too much at that point. I definitely enjoyed playing hockey though.
JM: Transitioning our conversation to your Harvard years, we’re talking Ivy League here. How did you end up there originally?
AF: I was hoping to get some big Division I offers from a football program during the recruiting process. I went through some camps during my junior year with Rutgers, Uconn, Boston College and some other schools in the northeast area. I didn’t end up getting any offers from them. Harvard actually found me at the Boston College camp. I started thinking about taking that route. I took a visit up there and met with the coaches. We talked about the vision they had for me. They previously had Kyle Juszczyk up there as an H-back type of tight end. The head coach there kinda saw me playing a similar role in his offense. I started looking more into Ivy League at that point. It’s hard to say no to that opportunity. I knew the doors that Harvard could open up for me were endless in case playing sports didn’t work out for me.
JM: The academic expectations are obviously not to be taken lightly. How did you balance playing football with your school work?
AF: Time management was incredibly important. I put a lot of emphasis on that. You need to understand how to structure your days between practice and what not. I knew how much time I had to allocate to football and how much time I needed to allocate to studying and homework and all of the in-class demands. Everyone there is kinda going through the same thing. We all had to make sure we were staying on top of our responsibilities. Everyone is so driven academically that you have to have that same mentality or else you’re gonna fall behind. I knew I had to stay on top of that. I had to stay on top of the football season as well.
JM: You mentioned realizing that Harvard could lead to other opportunities. You prepared for a scenario in case football didn’t work out for you. What do you think you’d be doing today if you weren’t playing football?
AF: I hadn’t fully decided on that (laughs). I took applied math and economics so I think I’d probably end up in the field of financial consulting. I assume that’s where my background would have taken me with the type of networking that’s available to you at Harvard.
JM: Coming out of Harvard, you had some opportunities with the Jets and the Chiefs but things didn’t go your way. You had an excellent pre-season this year with the Titans and you thoroughly deserved your spot on the final 53-man roster. What was your initial reaction like when you found out you had indeed made the team?
AF: I was so excited. [Titans general manager] Jon Robinson called me into his office and usually when you get that call during the period in which roster cuts are occuring, you think it’s to find out you’ve been cut. I think he wanted to tell me in person that I had made the team. I went into his office and he told me that I’d earned a spot on the 53-man roster. I was beyond ecstatic. I thought about all the hard work I had been putting in and I felt really good about that. I called my parents and my brother immediately after getting the news. Everyone was just so excited for me. It was a great moment for sure.
JM: At the same time, you were waived on September 17th. Did you get down on yourself at that moment or did you realize there was a good chance they’d bring you back?
AF: It’s always unfortunate when that happens. I understand the business at this point. I had been through it before. After being here for over a year, I had been cut two times before that. It sounded like they wanted to bring me back onto the practice squad. That definitely gave me some hope that I could possibly earn a spot on the 53-man roster later in the year if I kept working hard and proving myself to the staff. Once I made it back onto the practice squad, I had renewed hope at that point. I just kept my head down and continued to work hard. I wanted to do whatever I could to get back up to the active roster.
JM: It didn’t take very long. They signed you back to the practice squad the very next day and you were elevated to the active roster on October 8th and you were active for the game against Baltimore on October 14th.
AF: I was active for the week two game against the Houston Texans as well. That was before I got cut. That was the first game I dressed for. It was awesome to be out there and to have the opportunity to contribute on Sunday. That’s something I’ve been working for my entire life. I had been on the practice squad and I was inactive for the first game. Being active for the first time was an amazing experience. I just wanted to contribute however I could out there. After they promoted me back onto the active roster for the Ravens game, they gave me a little bit more responsibility. I was excited to take advantage of that opportunity. I just had to keep improving every day from there.
To be continued later this week with part two of our two-part exclusive interview with Anthony Firkser.