By Hillel Kuttler
(JTA) – When Alexander “Ali” Marpet and Jake Fuerst went on a camel ride during a Birthright trip to Israel last summer, the animal brayed loudly in displeasure at the 467 pounds of young men perched on its back.
Most of the camel’s agony could be blamed on the 6-foot-4, 307-pound Marpet, who was overseas on a final fling of sorts before gearing up for the big time and facing even bigger bodies than his. Marpet, an offensive lineman from Hobart College in upstate New York, was picked by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second round of the National Football League’s draft on Friday night, May 1 in Chicago. He was the 61st overall pick.
His speed and strength demonstrated at this winter’s NFL combine make him a logical choice. Sports Illustrated has Marpet, a member of the Jewish Sports Review’s 2014 All-America football team, as the 89th-rated player among those draft eligible and 14th among offensive linemen.
But Hobart, a private liberal arts institution of 2,396 students in the Finger Lakes region, isn’t exactly known for football, despite its 12-1 record and No. 9 national ranking last season. The Statesmen compete in Division III, which does not award athletic scholarships or receive much publicity, and have had only one other player drafted by the NFL.
“I am a little excited and a little bit nervous,” Marpet said of the draft, which he watched on television at his father’s house in Hastings-on-Hudson, a town about 20 miles north of Manhattan.
Fuerst, a senior at Tulane, flew up from New Orleans to be there along with scores of other friends and relatives. He’s well familiar with the home, having spent plenty of Friday nights there with other friends of Marbet for Sabbath candle-lighting and singing. “It was a given that we’d show up [there],” said Fuerst, who has known Marpet since the sixth grade.
Another childhood pal, George Moore, traveled from Japan, where he serves with the U.S. Navy. Their being on hand – along with Ali’s two older brothers and younger sister, who live in Chicago and Florida – “means a lot,” Marpet said.
In the NFL, Marpet will join such Jewish players as offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz of the New York Giants, Marpet’s favorite team growing up.
Marpet didn’t consider playing pro football a realistic aspiration until enjoying what he described as a “pretty dominant” sophomore season, when he weighed 270 pounds – small by NFL standards among offensive linemen. That sense was bolstered, he said, by a strong workout before NFL scouts following his junior year.
Michael Green, Hobart’s assistant offensive line coach last season and a teammate the two prior years, said that Marpet inspired the Statesmen with his dedication, leadership and humility.
“I saw him as a leader by example. He was a two-year captain because he was so dominant on the football field and because of how hard he worked,” Green said. “He was a mentor to other players and helped build their skills, their technique. And he’s been humble – never a cocky guy or egotistical, but confident.”
Bill Marpet described his son as “a quiet person” who’s never in a bad mood. Beginning in childhood, whether bowling or learning to ride a bicycle, his son always has been “completely focused” on the task at hand. Even during a family vacation in Jamaica a year ago, the elder Marpet recalled, his son was single-minded in his approach to his football training, setting his phone to ring every two hours as a reminder to eat protein bars, sandwiches and fruit, and working out regularly.
A videographer in Manhattan’s fashion industry, Bill Marpet was a studio cameraman for a Tel Aviv-based educational television program while living in Israel from 1974 through 1979; his first wife was Israeli.
Ali Marpet is indirectly responsible for his dad meeting his fiancee, Susan Liberati, as the two divorced parents regularly watched their sons – co-captains on the Hastings High squad – play football.
Marpet is just the third Division III player in the past seven years to be selected. An economics major at Hobart with a minor in philosophy and public policy, Marpet said he’ll proudly represent his small school and Division III players in the NFL. The Jews, too: He said it would be “a huge honor” to represent Jewish athletes.
“I’m happy to wave that flag,” Marpet said.