Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A Football Education

Nate Lawrie may initially draw attention because of his Ivy League background, but he knows he’ll have to prove himself on the field, and he’s got the skills to do it

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TE Nate Lawrie has the frame to add weight without sacrificing speed

You may have heard of Jason Szuminski.

Actually, you probably never heard of this young man when he was Jason Szuminski, MIT Student and Air Force Reserve lieutenant. Now that he's Jason Szuminski, Genius Pitcher, there's a good chance you've run across his story.

Szuminski recently succeeded in making the San Diego Padres' roster, becoming the first MIT grad to pitch in the major leagues. During the breakthrough training camp that earned him his promotion to the big leagues, Szuminski's story was a hot item in the media, even spawning a 'Szuminski Meter' in Sports Illustrated.

The attention was understandable – the rocket scientist (he has a degree in aerospace engineering) trying to make it in The Rocket's game. You can be sure that he was asked countless times about his GPA, his IQ and the application of his education to the game of baseball. He heard the word genius a lot. And though he handled the attention with grace, one has to believe he would have preferred a few more questions about his sinker.

Well, there's a good chance Nate Lawrie is about to get the Szuminski Treatment.

Lawrie, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' sixth-round round draft choice last weekend, is in Tampa for his first NFL mini-camp. On Saturday, he chatted with Bay area media for the first time. Question number one: His thoughts on the Wonderlic test, the timed, 50-question problem-solving exam given to draft prospects by a number of teams.

Lawrie, a soon-to-be Yale grad (he's returning to New Haven for three more finals after this mini-camp), was happy to answer such questions, of course. And it is admittedly an interesting story, that of an Ivy Leaguer hearing his name called on draft weekend, given how infrequently it happens. Still, being an Eli won't give him an inside track in the NFL as it might in the business world. Lawrie will have to prove he belongs on the field.

"I'm just here to play football," he said. "I've always prided myself on my schoolwork and the ability to excel in the academic world. But when it comes down to football, you've just got to be able to play.

"The mental aspect of this game, especially in the NFL, is very tough and something I'll have to adjust to. I think having the academic background definitely can't hurt me. But what it comes down to is being able to play and go out there and get it done on the field."

Even in the Ivy League, Lawrie proved he belonged on the field at the college level, catching 116 passes for 1,361 yards and seven touchdowns in 29 games. That he stands 6-5 and weighs in the 255-270 range doesn't hurt, either, as it allows the Bucs to envision him as an excellent two-way tight end, excelling at both blocking and receiving. Scouts have told Lawrie that his frame will allow him to add weight without losing speed.

When the Bucs' mini-camp ends on Sunday, Lawrie will focus next on his remaining schoolwork. But once the Yale finals are done, he's going to concentrate exclusively on football for the first time, and he thinks the difference will be noticeable.

"My body weight's good but I need to add strength," said Lawrie. "I think it's going to be nice to focus and really work in the weight room and not have to worry about class work. Working out and football will be my job, that's where my main focus will be, and I think I can make some really good gains with that situation."

The purpose of this weekend's camp, in addition to getting a look at several dozen players in town on tryout contracts, was to get the rookies up to speed in the Bucs' system. The hope is that the newcomers will be ready to slide right in with the veterans come the full-team, mandatory camp in late June. Lawrie may have a head start in adjusting to Head Coach Jon Gruden's offense in that the Yale offense used a lot of pro formations and lined him up in many different spots, from the traditional end of the offensive line to the slot to the edge.

"We ran a pretty spread offense, a lot of pro formations, a lot of I formations," he said. "We flexed out a lot, spread it out and had four receivers. We passed a good amount of the time. I got to move around a lot and got a lot of experience doing that stuff, which is nice for learning the game of football."

Lawrie chose to attend Yale because it was an opportunity he couldn't ignore, a chance to learn as much as possible at one of the nation's top educational institutions. But, like Szuminski, his first attempt at a post-graduate job is in professional sports. Like Szuminski, Lawrie will have to prove he can make it, but he's on the right track.

"It's been my lifelong dream to play NFL football and Tampa's a great city to do it," said Lawrie. "It's just an amazing feeling."

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