Bucs take TEs from Yale and Dartmouth, a rare draft move.
By GREG AUMAN
Published April 26, 2004
TAMPA - Nate Lawrie was a freshman at Yale, watching the 2001 NFL draft on TV when he witnessed, by Ivy League football standards, a miracle: teammates Eric Johnson and Than Merrill were selected with back-to-back picks in the seventh round.
"That said a lot to me as a young player, that it was possible to get drafted," Lawrie said. "It gave me something to shoot for. To come out and actually be drafted out of the Ivy League is a great honor."
Lawrie got that rare honor Sunday when the Bucs selected the 6-foot-5, 262-pound tight end in the sixth round. Stranger still, Tampa Bay drafted a second Ivy Leaguer - the first NFL team to do so in 23 years - when it used the 228th pick in the seventh round on Dartmouth's Casey Cramer, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound tight end who the Bucs also look at as a fullback.
The Ivy League, the pinnacle of college academics, plays football in Division I-AA and has 15 draft picks in the past decade. To have two, at basically the same position, drafted in the same year by the same team is unbelievable, even for those involved.
"It's kind of crazy," Cramer said. "I didn't expect to get drafted at all, but we both played well in the all-star games and that really helped our status. It was a surprise to see both of us get picked, and by the same team no less."
Add those two to quarterback Jason Garrett of Princeton, and the Bucs have three Ivy Leaguers, something unfamiliar for coach Jon Gruden, who didn't recall ever coaching players of such pedigree.
"I can't fault these guys for going to Yale and Dartmouth," Gruden said when asked about their lack of high-level college competition. "I wasn't able to get into those schools."'
Lawrie and Cramer were prolific pass-catchers in college. Cramer caught 72 for 1,017 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior, becoming only the fourth Dartmouth player to reach 1,000 yards receiving. Lawrie set Yale's single-season record with 72 catches in 2003, good for 810 yards and three touchdowns.
They played well against each other in October, with Lawrie catching nine passes for 95 yards in Yale's 40-17 win and Cramer six for 105 yards and a TD.
"He's been my rival for all four years," Cramer said. "We're always up for the same honors. He was an All-American this year, and I had it last year."
Cramer has overcome long odds in football before. Overlooked by college recruiters after earning eight varsity letters in football, basketball and track at Middleton (Wis.) High School, he sent out a highlight tape despite catching eight passes his senior year. Coaches gave him grief because he showed one catch four times, but they liked him enough to bring him to campus. The Bucs are getting a character, too, one who took ballet for a year in elementary school after he read that Packers quarterback Don Majkowski did so to help his balance. He still takes yoga three times a week but said his cheesehead days ended Sunday.
"I was," said Cramer of his Packers fandom, "until this afternoon. Now I'm a big Jon Gruden fan."