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Dewey Jarvis navigates transition from Ivy League to NFL

Skim the Falcons’ roster, and note where your eyes stall. While searching for the staples and prominent newcomers, it’s possible to overlook someone such as Richard “Dewey” Jarvis, an undrafted free agent out of Brown. 

Even diehard football fans might have missed out on Jarvis’ collegiate performance. This isn’t surprising, given that Brown is far more known for turning out neurosurgeons and Nobel Prize winners than linebackers. Only 28 players from the eight teams in the Ivy League are active in the NFL. 

But the NFL was not at the top of Jarvis’ priorities when he accepted an offer to play football and attend college in Providence, Rhode Island. The Watertown, Massachusetts, native felt the school gave him an opportunity to excel in academics and athletics. He wanted to play his favorite sport while working toward a biology degree that would eventually lead to medical school. So even though Brown football doesn't get the same reaction as other Division I schools, Jarvis felt it was the perfect outlet for his abilities. 

While his mother, Karla Jarvis, shared the sentiment, she celebrated her son’s decision for a slightly different reason. There aren’t any athletic scholarships at Brown, and Jarvis thought she might be able to “pressure” her son into walking away from the sport.

The hope of Dewey Jarvis abandoning football stemmed from concerns that date to his childhood. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker was born with Hirschsprung's disease, a developmental disorder that affects the colon. Roughly one in 5,000 infants are born with it, and while treatments have become more advanced in recent years, little was known about the condition when Jarvis was young. 

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Like any parent, Karla Jarvis wanted to protect her child from anything that could negatively affect his health. After spending the first two years of his life in and out of the hospital, she was adamant that he wouldn’t play football. 

But Jarvis fell in love with the sport while watching on Sundays with his grandfather, and his mom’s refusal didn’t stop him from asking again and again, even if he did “miss sign-ups” every season.

“He wanted to play Pop Warner football, and I thought that was too physical,” Karla Jarvis remembered. “There was too much risk for him, so we always found an excuse to not register him. He was away at camp or we missed the deadline or, ‘Really, there’s a Pop Warner? What is that?’” she laughed. 

Eventually, Jarvis wised up to his mom’s tactics and got some help from Chris Butler, the head football coach at Belmont Hill School in Belmont, Massachusetts, who convinced Jarvis’ mom to let Dewey play with the promise that “not a hair on his head” would get hurt. 

As a freshman in high school, Jarvis joined the ninth-grade team and was a natural. As a tight end and a defensive end, he played nearly every down and rarely left the field. 

“He was one of those kids who never realized when he was playing how good he really was. He was so humble about his abilities,” Butler said.

Jordan Akins #88 of the South team is tackled by Dewey Jarvis #94 of the North team during the first half of the Reese's Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on January 27, 2018 in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo by (Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)) (Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

The gridiron wasn’t the only place Jarvis excelled. He played basketball, ran track, played piano, took advanced-placement courses and was a member of the National Honor Society. He was the total package, and recruiters at Brown knew they had found someone special. 

Defensive coordinator, Michael Kelleher, and linebackers coach, Neil McGrath worked closely with Jarvis during his collegiate career. He initially was brought in as a linebacker and received playing time on special teams as a freshman, but a nagging knee injury resulted in a redshirt his second season. 

After undergoing a tibial tubercle osteotomy to improve kneecap stability, Jarvis continued to progress and had a breakout season in 2016. Playing at defensive end after a position change, he led the Ivy League and ranked ninth nationally with 18.5 tackles for loss. He returned in 2017 to take advantage of the redshirt season and finished his collegiate run with 17.5 sacks to rank second all-time at Brown. 

“There was no more dominating player who played every snap (and) not only dominated his position but dominated the defense in the Ivy League,” Kelleher said. “He plays every play like it’s his last.” 

That work ethic combined with steady improvement on every rep earned Jarvis an invite to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, alongside players from some of the top FBS teams.

“It was a completely different world going and playing with SEC players and Pac-12 players,” he said. “It was an awesome introduction into what I’m doing now because I got to see those guys that were getting selected first round, second round.” 

During the draft, Jarvis and his mother watched as some of his Senior Bowl teammates were selected. When his name wasn’t called, she thought her son was headed to medical school, but a call from his agent meant there was a choice to be made. 

Despite his mom’s preference for stethoscopes over shoulder pads, Jarvis decided to continue his athletic career, and the pursuit of playing football professionally led him to the Falcons.

But even if more extraordinary achievements lie ahead for Jarvis, his mother remains firm in her stance on the sport. 

“I just want to be clear. My position about football has not changed at all,” she said. “But I have from Day 1 always been a Dewey Jarvis fan. In fact, I think I’m his No. 1 fan, so no matter what he does, I would give him my full support. Football is what he wants to do. He’s happy doing it. I’m all for it. But I am not a football mom. I am Dewey’s mom.” 

As far as the opinions of the rest of the Jarvis household, Karla Jarvis says she is on an island by herself. She looks forward to the day her son turns his attention to medicine, but she will be in Mercedes-Benz Stadium at least once a year.

“I will absolutely be there at one game,” she said. “That’s our deal. I have to go to one game a season. I can’t watch it. Whenever someone tackles him or touches him, I’m ready to run onto the field and say, ‘Hey! That’s my son!’ We’ve agreed to one game a season, and I’ll settle for my one game.”

Of course, the deal only applies if Jarvis remains with the team into the regular season, and though he is focusing solely on improving his game at this point, his other option isn’t necessarily a downgrade.

Dewey Jarvis, MD has a nice ring to it, too. 

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