FOXBOROUGH — The torch has been passed in Baltimore — from one Harvard man to another.
Six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk retired in February at age 36 after 15 NFL seasons, but the reigning Super Bowl champion Ravens replaced one Harvard standout by adding another, drafting rugged fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the fourth round, 130th overall.
“I couldn’t be more honored to be following in the footsteps of someone like Matt Birk,’’ said Juszczyk by phone from his home in Medina, Ohio. “I just got the chance to meet him about a month ago. We’re represented by the same agent, Joe Linta, and we met at a charity event in New Haven and he was a great guy and he wished me luck going forward, but like I said, it’s an honor.’’
Connecticut defensive end Trevardo Williams was the first New England-based player to come off the board Saturday when the Texans selected him in the fourth round (124th). Houston also took UConn tight end Ryan Griffin, in the sixth round (201st). It gave the Huskies five draft picks after cornerback Dwayne Gratz (64th), linebacker Sio Moore (66th), and cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson (70th) were all selected in the third round.
“I’m happy they were drafted in the third round, because they all deserved it,’’ said Williams, a 6-foot-1-inch, 241-pounder from Bridgeport. “They all worked hard, so I knew my name was eventually coming up. I didn’t know exactly when — fourth round, fifth round — but I knew I was going to be there. I believed I was going to be a later draft pick.’’
New Hampshire’s Jared Smith, a 6-3, 302-pound defensive tackle, was taken in the seventh round by the Seahawks (241st). And with the next-to-last pick of the draft, No. 253, the Giants selected UMass running back Michael Cox of Dorchester. A transfer from Michigan, Cox started 12 games for the Minutemen, gaining 715 yards and scoring five touchdowns.
Juszczyk was the second Ivy League player to come off the board after Green Bay drafted Cornell center J.C. Tretter in the fourth round (122d). Princeton linebacker Mike Catapano was a seventh-round pick (207) by Kansas City.
In the past six drafts, NFL teams picked a total of three players total from the league.
Juszczyk was the 20th Harvard player to be drafted and fourth under coach Tim Murphy. He’s the highest-drafted Crimson player since linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski went 119th overall in 2000.
In four seasons at Harvard, Juszczyk (6-1, 257) was a two-time All-American and three-time All-Ivy selection at tight end and H-back. He established career marks of 125 receptions, 1,576 receiving yards, and 22 touchdown receptions.
“Guys like Kyle Juszczyk do not grow on trees,’’ Murphy said in a statement. “He will go down as one of the great players in Harvard and Ivy football history. His rare combination of versatility, toughness, leadership and playmaking ability was one of the major catalysts for the highest-scoring offense since the Ivy League was formed in 1956.’’
After leading Harvard his senior season with 52 receptions, 706 receiving yards, and eight TD catches, Juszczyk earned an invitation to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., where he rushed four times for 9 yards, primarily as an H-back.
“It’s been really surreal,’’ Juszczyk said. “It still hasn’t hit me. We’re having a draft party here at my house in Ohio and I got my family and friends here. I couldn’t be happier to share it with everybody. I’m excited to get to work.’’
Juszczyk had a strong inkling he might be working for the Ravens after he visited the team earlier this month. With veteran fullback Vonta Leach entering the final year of his contract, Juszczyk sensed a strong interest from the Ravens.
“Obviously, you never know what’s going to happen in the draft,’’ Juszczyk said. “I visited so many different teams that I think there were a lot of different options, but after visiting with the Ravens, I got a really good sense from them that I was going to fit well in their system, that they seemed to like what I brought to the table.
“I really liked what they had in store for me. So I was kind of hoping that it would work out and I would end up there, so this is great.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.