OL, 6'2, 290, Sr (St Louis HS, Honolulu, HI)
Man in the middle
Saint Louis product Frank Fernandez is the linchpin of Harvard's offensive line
Frank Fernandez enjoys playing football, and wants to compete as long as possible, but knows the day will come when he won't be putting the pads on any more.
The starting center for the Harvard Crimson plays his final college game in the 123rd edition of "The Game" against Yale tomorrow. He would like an opportunity to play for pay next year in the National Football League.
"I'm hoping. I will keep working out and see what happens. If things don't work out, then I'm getting a great education," said Fernandez, who will graduate in June with an economics degree.
Harvard (7-2 overall, 4-2 Ivy League) was upset by Penn 22-13 last Saturday. The loss took control of the Crimson's Ivy League championship hopes out of their hands. Harvard can gain a share of the Ivy title if it beats Yale for the sixth consecutive year and Dartmouth upsets Princeton.
The 6-foot-2, 290-pounder chose Harvard over Yale and UC Davis after also considering walking on at Stanford.
Fernandez got a taste of Boston the summer before his senior season at Saint Louis, when he helped the Crusaders win the state title with a 34-15 win over Castle, by attending the Harvard football camp.
"We first met Frank at our summer football camp. Physically, at that time we were not that impressed because he was a little short by our standards," said Crimson head coach Tim Murphy.
"We weren't that sure how he would fit into the team. But, we just fell in love with the person at the camp. When we had a spot open we went out to get him.
"He was a top-notch student and had great character, but it took us a while to figure out just how good a player he was. Frank will be starting his 30th consecutive game against Yale."
Fernandez played guard and tackle at Saint Louis but a position switch was in order his freshman year at Harvard.
"Once I got up here, I was the shortest offensive lineman, so they put me at center," Fernandez said.
He appeared in one game as a freshman, then, due to teammate injuries, got his first start against Northeastern in the fifth game of his sophomore season.
"Ryan Fitzpatrick, now with the (St. Louis) Rams, was the quarterback and we had Clifton Dawson (a senior this year), an All-American running back who is a man among boys. With those great players it made it easier for me to fit in.
"It didn't help that Northeastern had an All-America linebacker (Liam Ezekiel, who played with Buffalo Bills in 2005) that I had to be concerned with."
Harvard won the game 41-14 and went on to win the Ivy League title with a 10-0 season. Fernandez earned All-Ivy League honorable mention accolades.
"To have a young, inexperienced player in a veteran front line of a championship team is unheard of. Frank was so poised and motivated," Murphy said.
That was one of two highlights that Fernandez recalled. The other occurred last year against Yale.
"The triple overtime game at Yale (a 30-24 Crimson win) was huge. The crowd was crazy. The place (Yale Bowl) was almost a sellout, maybe 50,000 fans. It was the college atmosphere you don't usually get in the Ivy league," Fernandez said.
He was one of two returning offensive linemen this year, but that prompted him and a couple of other seniors to get an early start.
Murphy likes to tell this story.
"After recruiting last year in late February, my wife and I went indoors to play some tennis. There was Frank with four or five freshman and maybe sophomores going through drills. No one else in America was doing that on a Saturday afternoon. That tells you how committed he is," Murphy said.
Fernandez said, "Coming into this season we were missing some good guys. So myself and some other seniors decided to take some younger players and go over the drills with them on our own without any coaches."
He acknowledges the coaches have challenged him to be more vocal in his leadership and he says he is working on it, communicating with mutual respect across the line. Even though he was just one of two returning offensive linemen this year, he didn't experience any extra pressure.
"I think Frank is the best center in the Ivy League and one of the best in the country," Murphy said. "We wouldn't trade him for anyone. He's always been a leader in a very quiet, understated way."
His willingness to help didn't stop with his football teammates. A wrestler from the seventh grade on at Saint Louis that culminated with a loss in the heavyweight state finals as a senior, Fernandez spent some time back on the mat last year.
He and teammates Will Johnson and Matt Drazba became occasional workout partners for Bode Ogunwole, a nationally ranked 260-pounder.
"He ran into the same problem I did in high school. There weren't too many guys my size to roll around with," Fernandez said.
He has been to Fenway Park to watch a Red Sox game and says he has experienced everything Boston has to offer.
The thing that surprised him most was the pace of life in Beantown.
"People here walk fast, always seem to be in a hurry," Fernandez said.