For Harry Flaherty and his family, football isn’t just a game. It’s a way of life.
Since he started playing football at an early age, Flaherty, 22, has used the “family” game to help him achieve things others could only dream about.
Now, after a short training camp stint with the New Orleans Saints that didn't pan out, and tryouts with other National Football League teams, Flaherty, a Red Bank Catholic graduate, is trying to make his NFL dream become a reality.
Growing up in Oceanport, Flaherty’s earliest memories revolve around football, and for good reason. His grandfather, Jim Garrett, coached with the New York Giants from 1970-73 and was a scout for the Dallas Cowboys from 1987-2004. Flaherty's uncle is Jason Garrett, a longtime NFL quarterback (1989-2004) and current head coach of the Dallas Cowboys (2010-present).
“Football was a huge part of my life growing up and I was blessed to have a lot of great examples around me with my dad, my grandfather and my uncles,” said Flaherty, who first started playing as a 7-year-old in the second grade. “From the time I was playing football in middle school, there hasn’t been a summer that has gone by when I wasn’t coached on my route-running in my grandfather’s backyard in Monmouth Beach. My dad was one of my high school coaches and my uncles have given me a lot of tips over the years as well. I am very fortunate to have had a lot of great people take interest in me both in and outside of football.”
Flaherty attended from 2003-06 and played tight end and linebacker. As a senior, Flaherty garnered All-Shore honors, was selected as a Super 100 recruit by the New Jersey Football Coaches Association and received the Vince Lombardi Award. In addition to his individual accolades, he helped lead the Caseys to a division title during his junior year. Flaherty also excelled in the classroom as he was a member of the National Honor Society.
After receiving full scholarship offers from and The United States Military Academy at West Point (Army) and taking an official visit to Harvard University, Flaherty decided to stay in New Jersey and attend , following in the footsteps of his uncle Jason.
“I went to Princeton because it was the best combination of challenging academics and high-caliber football, along with being a place that I felt comfortable attending,” Flaherty said.
Playing tight end for the Tigers from 2007-10, Flaherty finished his collegiate career with 43 receptions for 405 yards (9.4-yard average). As a senior, he was the team’s co-recipient of the Dr. Harry Roemer McPhee Award, given for qualities of durability and fortitude as he had 25 receptions for 212 yards. During his junior year, he caught 18 passes for 193 yards, the most by a Princeton tight end since 2005. In 2011, Flaherty was invited to play in the NFLPA Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Challenge.
Upon graduating from Princeton with a degree in history, Flaherty didn’t want his football-playing career to end. With the NFL lockout looming, Flaherty continued to work out and keep a positive mind-set.
“It was hard to tell if the lockout was going to help or hurt my chances of making it on a training camp roster,” Flaherty said. “Everything happens for a reason and God is in control. It would have been nice to have gone through minicamp and OTAs and had that experience under my belt going into training camp. However, at the same time, the lockout gave me a chance to get physically healed from a hamstring injury, so you don’t really know.”
When the NFL players and owners agreed on a new deal to end the lockout on July 25, it didn’t take long for Flaherty to catch on with a team. On July 26, the New Orleans Saints contacted his agent and decided to sign him, making the 6-foot-3, 250-pound tight end one of the first undrafted free agents to be signed. Flaherty was aware the Saints were interested, but he said they were not the primary team interested in signing him. He had heard primarily from the Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans. The New England Patriots had also contacted his agent after he had agreed to terms with the Saints.
“I was very excited and felt very blessed,” Flaherty said. “It was a long wait and it was great to know I’d be getting an opportunity. At the same time, it was very surreal because it all happened so quickly. Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed of playing pro football, but it didn’t really occur to me that there was a legitimate chance for me to get signed until after my senior season when I started to garner some interest from teams.”
However, on Aug. 4, Flaherty’s dreams were put on hold when Saints released him.
“I was both surprised and disappointed when they called me in to see (head coach Sean) Payton,” Flaherty said. “At the same time, I knew what type of business this was and knew that getting on an active roster would not be an easy road. I was probably most disappointed that I wasn’t able to see preseason action.”
Although his time with the Saints was brief, Flaherty believes the experience he gained by participating in his first NFL training camp will only help him as he continues to chase his dream.
“It was a great experience, he said. “I felt like I picked the offense up fairly quickly and played well. While it didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped, it definitely introduced me to the level of play in the NFL and I’m thankful I was there.”
Since being released by the Saints, a couple teams have showed interest in Flaherty, including the tight-end deprived Giants, who brought him in for a workout in mid-August but did not sign him. Also possessing the ability to long snap, Flaherty continues to work out in hopes that another NFL team calls.
“I am definitely working out, hoping for another opportunity,” he said. “It’s very tough to get signed during training camp or the season. I hope that my ability to long snap will help me make a roster. I wasn’t evaluated as a long snapper in New Orleans because they had two snappers who did nothing but long snap.”
Flaherty is a devout Christian who volunteers much of his time at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). The FCA is a non-profit interdenominational Christian organization founded in 1954 and based in Kansas City, Mo. It falls within the tradition of Muscular Christianity. Established initially by evangelical Protestants, chapters have opened in several Catholic schools. Members are encouraged, but not required, to be athletes. FCA uses the influence of coaches and athletes as a means to spread the word about Christian evangelism. The group operates chapters based in schools and operates camps, workshops and conferences. Flaherty’s father is the state director of the FCA of New Jersey.
“My faith in Jesus Christ is the most important thing in my life,” Flaherty said. “This life is short, but eternity lasts forever, so you have to consider what your purpose in life really is. If my purpose were to be an NFL football player and make as much money as possible, I would feel pretty empty and worthless right now. However, God gives me true meaning and hope in my life. My parents taught me this at a young age and I have found it to be true as I have lived my life. Nothing else will truly satisfy man than having a relationship with God. This helps me on the field because, just like in life, I will never be perfect. But since Jesus died for my sins, I don’t have to be. All He asks is for my very best and having a relationship with Him enables me to play worry-free while giving all that I have to give. It’s the least I can do.”
Whatever endeavors he chooses to tackle in life, may it be on or off the field, Flaherty’s strong upbringing will only help him reach his goals.
“I hope to represent the family well by the way I carry myself,” he said. “However, as a Christian, I ultimately want to represent God well by giving my very best effort and being a man of character on and off the field. I am unsure what I will do beyond football, possibly law school, teaching or coaching. My ultimate goals would be to be a great husband and father someday.”