Ends meet at Harvard
The tight ends stand 6 feet 3 inches and 6-5, weighing 245 and 235, and catch passes as if they had bear traps for hands. They feed off each other on the field, and feed with each other at Chipotle. They compete in the weight room and in the bowling alley. They are two tower-sized reasons Harvard is favored to repeat as the Ivy League champion.
Crimson signal-caller Colton Chapple fancies tight ends a quarterback’s best friend. Lucky him, he has two: senior Kyle Juszczyk, nicknamed “Juice” for those struggling to handle his Krzyzewski-like surname, and junior Cameron Brate.
“It’s almost to another level with these guys,” Chapple said. “Their talent, their skill level, they’re just huge targets and they’re able to get up and down the field with the same speed as most of the receivers.
“It’s a lot easier on me. It’s tough for defenses to prepare for just those guys alone.
“We always joke around, saying before we know it, we won’t need a quarterback or a running back, just direct snap it to the tight end.”
Even if defenses formulated a plan to stop Juszczyk and Brate, it rarely amounted to much. They combined for 14 touchdowns and 898 yards last season as Harvard went 9-1 overall and 7-0 in the Ivy League. Juszczyk, as a junior, was first-team All-Ivy, second-team All-American, and won the College Football Performance Award as the nation’s top tight end. In his first varsity season, Brate was second-team all-Ivy.
Entering 2012, the Crimson are ranked 22d in the preseason FCS coaches’ poll. Juszczyk has been named to every preseason All-American team. After finishing second on the team with 15.4 yards per reception, Brate earned honorable mention All-American honors from the Beyond College Sports Network.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said Juszczyk. “Normally you don’t even find one, but to have two on the same team, at the same position? We’re pretty lucky. I think the stars just kind of aligned that cam and I were on campus at the same time.”
Since they matriculated, the two have forged a friendship, talking over burrito bowls and pickup basketball. Everything is a competition —
“Both of us will tell you that each of us wins more of the competitions we have,” Brate said. “I would say Juice has probably has the upper hand right now, especially in the weight room, but I’m working on it. We’re mostly focused, but maybe there’s a little trash talking. Usually we’re pretty positive with each other, though.”
With weapons like these, where is there room for negativity? Juszczyk is the more versatile tight end, with run-blocking skills as complete as any lineman’s, but speed to outrun safeties. He has played H-back and slot receiver. He can make defenders miss, or run them over.
Two inches taller than his counterpart, Brate provides an impossible-to-miss target over the middle of the field and in the red zone. Buried on the depth chart his freshman season, Brate was eventually moved to first string by coach Tim Murphy, which allowed Juszczyk to split out as an H-back.
“I say we complement each other well, but we love to be on the field together,” Brate said. “Being such good friends, we like to think we’re two pretty good players, being on the field, having fun, playing together.”
When asked to illustrate their dominance, Chapple did not hesitate.
Brate’s example came first. During a 24-7 win over Brown, the Crimson drove into the red zone. Brate ran a corner route, but in a rain-soaked Harvard Stadium, Chapple overthrew him. Brate stuck out his right hand and reeled it on. One-handed.
As for Juszczyk, at Columbia, he caught a ball in the right flat from Collier Winters. Turning upfield, Juszczyk stiff-armed a safety right in the chest and barreled for a 41-yard touchdown. The following day, the Crimson sat in the film room, watching the play over and over. They still couldn’t believe what they saw.
“Like I said, it was just a wild play,” Chapple said. “Most of us on the sidelines were like, dang, that really happened. That looked like a man playing with a bunch of boys.”
Juszczyk and Chapple have been living together at Harvard for three years now, always talking about football. Over the summer, Juszczyk and Brate met up four or five times each week to throw with Chapple.
Juszczyk pushed Brate in the weight room, always sneaking in an extra session before bed to help improve his teammate’s blocking skills, while Brate kept things light on the side. After practice, when everyone is gassed from drills, Brate will be cracking jokes. Always laughing or lightening the mood. Chapple calls him an “absolute goofball.”
“He told me he said that about me,” Brate said. “Yeah, just try to keep things light. A lot of people get real intense, too worked up over practice, keep everyone light, everyone happy. I guess it’s a compliment.”
Said Juszczyk, “Whatever we’re doing, whether we’re in the middle of the summer, tougher running days, maxing out, somehow Cam finds a way to make a joke of it. At the same time, he has a seriousness to him. But he makes everything we do fun.”
Once the season ends, the NFL will take precedence in Juszczyk’s mind. He hasn’t yet made contact with agents or scouts, but he grills former Crimson players who made the jump to professional football — such as tackle Kevin Murphy — at every opportunity. Brate’s time might not be long in coming.
“Both guys have great hands and great talent that you don’t really find,” Chapple said. “Definitely next-level talent, without a doubt. In my opinion, both guys will be able to play at the next level. Having two guys on the same position on the same field at the same time just gives me multiple threats. All I have to do is just get it to them.”
On occasion, Juszczyk and Brate like to joke about the Patriots. Any offense with two standout tight ends will inevitably draw comparisons to Bill Belichick’s unit, with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. They argue over who’s who. Brate says he’s definitely the Gronk.
“You look at the New England Patriots, all of a sudden they’re drinking this magic Kool-Aid, but it’s only because they somehow drafted those [tight ends] and got some outstanding guys,” said Murphy. “It’s so hard to find those guys. We want a majority of our athletes on defense, but when you can get guys who are athletic and can do multiple things offensively, it is a great weapon.”
Actually, it’s two great weapons.