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Hedge Funds to Hash Marks: How Harvard Man Cameron Brate Is Schooling the NFL

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystDecember 5, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 29 : Cameron Brate #84 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reacts after a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 29, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Indianapolis defeated Tampa Bay 25-12. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

When someone attends Harvard, or any Ivy League school, their future is supposed to be set.

Harvard graduates become masters of industry, pillars of academia or even the president of the United States.

Despite earning an economics degree from Harvard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate didn't have his future laid out before him like some grand plan. Instead, he pursued an NFL career. While the earlier portions of his current endeavor fluctuated like the stock market, this Harvard man is now making an impression both on and off the field.

In a league full of wealthy men, some even come to Brate for his expertise.

"It's been pretty funny," Brate said. "A couple of the guysLouis Murphy and Austin [Seferian-Jenkins]love to come up to me and ask, 'What's going on with the market? Is the Fed going to raise rates?' Things like that. Honestly, I don't have too much to keep up with it to give out too much advice. During the offseason, I try to keep up with everything that's going on and be more informed. Just put my education to good use."

Professional football is a full-time job that requires an inordinate amount of practice, studying and overall preparation. In fact, Brate is usually one of the first members of the Buccaneers to show up at the facilities each day.

However, that doesn't prevent him from giving financial advice if he sees a potential problem.

Depending on who is providing the number, 60 to 80 percent of former NFL players are broke five years after retirement. In a Forbes op-ed penned by former super-agent Leigh Steinberg, the number mentioned is closer to the latter.

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The percentage usually comes from a 2009 Sports Illustrated piece by Pablo Torre that estimated 78 percent of former NFL players have "gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce" within two years.

While the actual percentage can vary, it's still a sad state of affairs Brate hopes to avoid and help others do the same.

"It's a crazy statistic," Brate said. "I've heard that the past few years. It's almost unbelievable the rate is that high. If you ask the guys on the team, I'm one of the cheapest guys. I only buy the essentials: food, shelter and water. I try to help the guys out and question their purchases a little bit if they're spending a little extravagantly. But it falls on every player to make his own decisions."

Brate doesn't veer from his plan. His only major purchase after signing a one-year, $510,000 NFL contract was a used 2013 Toyota Corolla. He also paid off his student loans.

Why did Brate still need to pay off his student loans despite a successful athletic career? Ivy League schools do not grant athletic scholarships.

Thrifty. Frugal. Economical. These all describe Brate, but he almost didn't go to Harvard or consider pursuing a career in finance.

Brate's story starts in Naperville, Illinois. The thought of a Midwestern kid actually attending Harvard wasn't serious at first, but the situation quickly escalated.

"I received a letter one day during my junior year," Brate said. "My parents got a kick out of it. I never thought I'd end up at a place like that. Once the opportunity presented itself, I think my parents would have killed me if I turned it down. They pressured me in the right direction. It became a blessing, because I loved it there."

Cameron Brate prepares to block in "The Game" against the rival Yale Bulldogs.
Cameron Brate prepares to block in "The Game" against the rival Yale Bulldogs.Jessica Hill/Associated Press

He had a great career with the Crimson. In his three seasons on the varsity squad, Brate caught 91 passes for 1,381 yards and 18 touchdowns. He was named first-team All-Ivy League twice and second team once.

Brate graduated in four years and was named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which "recognizes an individual as the absolute best in the country for his academic success, football performance and exemplary community leadership", per the National Football Foundation's website. Essentially, the Campbell Trophy is treated as the "Academic Heisman."

During his time in Cambridge, Brate also completed a pair of internships. Without the NFL, his path would have been a career in finance.

"I wanted to work somewhere on Wall Street," Brate said. "I interned at a hedge fund in Boston one summer. I actually interned at a law firm in Boston the summer before that and found out I didn't want to go into law. I definitely enjoyed my second experience. It was fast-paced, and every day was different in finance.

"To make the NFL, it's something you have to be all in, though. I didn't have anything specific set up, but my backup plan was always to go into finance. I wanted to check out New York. Obviously, this has worked out better than I could have ever hoped."

The Buccaneers eventually invited Brate to a rookie tryout after he went undrafted in 2014. He was one of three rookies signed after the tryout, and he's the only one on the team now. However, his stay in Tampa Bay hasn't been without some ups and downs.

The team released him during the final wave of cuts before the season. He eventually signed with the rival New Orleans Saints before being placed on their practice squad.

"Terrible day for me," Brate said. "I woke up to a phone call from one of the guys upstairs. It's never good to get one of those phone calls. They told me they were going to let me go. Obviously, it crushed me at the time. It really opened my eyes to how cutthroat the business is. I really didn't do anything wrong. I lost out to the numbers game."

Less than a week passed before the Buccaneers came calling again. An injury to second-year tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins forced the move, and it's worked out for all parties.

"Cam is a guy we almost let slip away there," offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said last week, per the Tampa Bay Times' Greg Auman. "[Jon] Embree, our tight ends coach, has done a fantastic job with him. We really saw the potential in Cam. He's improving every week, which is all you can ask from any player."
 
In the last two weeks, Brate became a much bigger part of the offense. Quarterback Jameis Winston targeted him 10 times, and he caught eight of those passes for 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The rapport between the two young players continues to grow.

"Cam is a very bright guy," Winston said last week, per the Tampa Tribune's Ira Kaufman. "He's a hard worker. Cam, he gets here close to the time the quarterbacks get here. He's always working, getting his body right. He's definitely cherishing and definitely taking advantage of this opportunity he has."

Seferian-Jenkins, last year's second-round pick, suffered a shoulder injury in Week 2 against the Saints. He's expected to return to the lineup soon, but that doesn't automatically mean a diminished role for Brate.

Buccaneers' top receivers (2015)
PlayerReceptionsYardsTDs
Mike Evans497892
Vincent Jackson294513
Charles Sims283083
Louis Murphy101980
Doug Martin221891
Cameron Brate141843
NFL.com

The two tight ends fall on opposite sides of the spectrum in how they can contribute to the Buccaneers offense.

"Austin is a great player, and we can't wait to get him back," Brate said. "Hopefully, they still use me a little bit. He and I aren't the same by any means. Hopefully, I can complement his game. Just be someone who can contribute in the passing game and hold his own in the run game.

"If you could construct the perfect tight end, it would look like Austin. He's athletic, really big, strong, and he can do anything in the run or pass games. He's probably got about 35 pounds on me.

"I'm more of a swing guy whereas Austin is more of a traditional 'Y' [tight end]. I'm someone you can split out, put in the backfield and just do a little bit of everything."

Brate would be described as a "move" tight end. He's stands 6'5" and weighs 235 pounds. He displays more than enough athleticism to stretch the seam and present mismatches in the passing game, but he isn't overpowering at the point of attack as a blocker.

However, no tight end has graded better than Brate over the past two weeks, according to Pro Football Focus.

A year ago, he primarily toiled away on the practice squad behind Seferian-Jenkins, Luke Stocker and Brandon Myers. It's now going to be hard to keep him off the field.

Despite his recent success, Brate hasn't lost sight of what he's already accomplished.

"I would say the odds of making it into the NFL from a tryout were smaller than graduating from Harvard," Brate said. "But Harvard is hard in a lot of ways, especially juggling football with school work. I'm pretty proud of the fact I was able to graduate in four years. I would have to go with graduating from Harvard [as the bigger accomplishment]."

Once his NFL career is completewhenever that may beBrate could stay involved in football by becoming a coach or helping athletes with their financial situations.

"Definitely," Brate said. "I love being around the game. I don't want to rule out going into football after I'm done, but I would like to start taking some MBA classes this offseason. As lame as it sounds, I love being in school and learning."

At least, that's the plan right now.

Salary information courtesy of Spotrac.com. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Brent Sobleski on Twitter, @brentsobleski.

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