The Ivy League is comprised of eight of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the entire nation.
Their names alone evoke thoughts of academic excellence and an impossibly difficult admission process, however, there are a few local student-athletes who look past all the glitz and history and just see another chance to play the game that they love.
There are currently 18 Western Pennsylvania natives on football rosters in the Ivy League. Cornell leads the way with four while Dartmouth, Penn, Princeton and Yale have three each. One of the players at Penn is 2016 South Fayette graduate Hunter Hayes.
Hayes is entering his senior year at Penn and said that beyond all the history and prestige that goes along with Ivy League schools, he just loves playing football.
“It’s great to just be out on the field and when you have people screaming for your team it always helps,” Hayes said. “There is a lot of school spirit here, I can’t thank the people that come out every single Saturday. It’s an awesome environment on game days.”
The Ivy League is home to some of the oldest college football teams in the country and the competition is just as intense as anywhere else. All eight schools sponsor football at the FCS level and some have histories that outshine even the most notable schools today. Princeton, for example, is credited with winning 26 national championships prior to 1935 and Yale won 18 before 1927.
The academic weight of attending an Ivy League school it is not lost on Hayes. He said just receiving an offer to an Ivy League school while in high school was life-changing.
“I was extremely excited and humbled. Logan Sharp went to my high school and also Justin Watson they both came to Penn so I had been able to be up (to Penn) a few times before they offered, but when they offered me it was life-changing,” Hayes said. “It’s one of those moments where your life changes forever. I couldn’t have been more happy and my parents were the same exact way.”
Hayes said that receiving an offer from an Ivy League school meant that the school didn’t only believe in his athletic ability, but his academics as well.
“I think that they’re offering you not just on your athletic ability, they’re offering you because they think you’re a hard worker, they think you can excel in the classroom,” Hayes said. “I think that really is huge for the confidence of an 18-year-old kid that is going to school with some of the smartest people in the world.”
Ivy League schools cannot actually offer scholarships for athletics, so an “offer” from one of the schools is more like a guaranteed spot on the team and admission to the school, according to Hayes.
“Basically they offer a spot on the team and they’re able to help you with admissions,” Hayes said. “If they offer you they think that you can get into the school on the merit so they’re basically offering you a spot in the school and then once you get in the school you’re on the team.”
Going through that same process right now is Montour High School senior George Padenzanin. The lineman has offers from all eight Ivy League institutions and is weighing his options carefully.
“I’m probably going to wait until after the season to make my commitment because I want to make sure I think everything through and make sure I see every single school that is giving me an opportunity to go play for them,” Padenzanin said. “I’m just looking for that school that I can call home. Just great football and great academics and a place that feels like family.”
While he has offers to other schools that could give him full-ride scholarships, Padenzanin said that the Ivy League offers are intriguing because of the high level of academics and the schools.
“The difference it there’s actually a lot more job opportunities when you go to a school like that. So basically you could make that money back that a scholarship would cover. I feel like it wouldn’t be a tall task to do that at all,” Padenzanin said. “It’s definitely a great opportunity because they have top-notch football and extremely great academics. If my ultimate dream of making the NFL doesn’t work out I would still have a lot of great opportunities to fall back on.”
Thomas Jefferson lineman Mac Duda and North Allegheny lineman Jake Lugg have both made their decisions already, with the Class of 2020 players picking Princeton and Harvard over schools that could offer scholarship money, higher-profile football, or both.
Padenzanin echoed Hayes, saying that receiving Ivy League offers were also a testament to his work in the classroom as well as the football field. While he still has a year of high school left, Padenzanin said that these offers are not putting any extra pressure on him to perform on the field or in the classroom.
“It’s pretty awesome, it’s rewarding to see all the hard work pay off in the classroom, not only in the classroom but on the field as well,” Padenzanin said. “I’ve always been pretty uptight on my grades so I just have to maintain them and that’s it, I feel like I can do that with ease so it’s not too much stress.”
Behind all the prestige and history, college football is still college football, even when it is played at the top schools in the country.