NEW YORK—Columbia Athletics honored New England Patriots owner and graduate Robert K. Kraft ’63 with a special reunion Saturday morning at Campbell Sports Center. The purpose of the event was to thank Kraft for his continued support with the annual Robert K.Kraft Financial Aid Scholarship that he has provided to countless Columbia football players over the years.
A number of former football players and alumni were in attendance to celebrate Kraft’s lasting impact. The reception offered the former players the opportunity to thank Kraft for his generosity and gave Kraft the chance to speak to those student-athletes whose lives that he has touched. The event took place prior to Columbia Football’s annual spring football game
Over the years, Kraft has provided Columbia Athletics financial support in the form of yearly academic scholarships, facilities upgrades, and other fundraising projects. In addition to athletics, Kraft’s impact has also been felt in the academic arena as he served two terms as a Columbia University trustee. On October 13, 2007, Columbia’s football field was named Robert K. Kraft Field in his honor.
Among the accomplished list of former Columbia football players who benefitted directly from the Robert K. Kraft Scholarships, one played in the National Football League, eight were All-Ivy League selections, six earned Academic All-Ivy League honors, eight were voted team captains, two were voted as Sid Luckman Team Most Valuable Player award recipients, 12 earned various other team awards and 28 were three-year letterwinners. A complete list of those players who benefitted from Kraft’s generosity is posted at this link.
Among those players in attendance included Matthew Barsamian ’07, Sean Brackett ’13, Charles Britton ’05, William Burke ’92, Jarel Cockburn ’02, Ralph Hudson '98, Jared Katz ’17, Nathan Lenz ’11, Josh Martin ’14, Michael Martinic ’00, Miguel Medrano ’98, Adam Mehrer ’11, Michael McGrath ’18, Matthew Moretto ’11, Bryan Paul ’92, Michael Sclafani ’94.
Kraft, who typically attends several Columbia football games each year, spoke about his experience of attending and playing football at Columbia.
“Growing up in Brookline, Mass., I was admitted to two Ivy League schools and only one gave me a full scholarship: Columbia,” Kraft said. “Columbia helped to change my life and prepare me for the world in a variety of ways. It was a great experience attending school here in New York City. Looking back now, the Core Curriculum was a new experience for me on the academic side. Normally, I wouldn’t have taken a lot of those courses, but it proved to be beneficial to me. Football was great, the best thing you can do for life lessons. Playing football helps bring out the best in people and it will be the best experience of your life. With everything that Columbia has given me, we set up a scholarship to give back. It’s been an honor and privilege to give back to Columbia.”
Former players introduced themselves and spoke about the experience of playing football at Columbia. Current New York Jets linebacker Josh Martin ’14 spoke about the impact Kraft has had on him.
“Thinking back to when I was making the decision of where I wanted to attend school, financial aid was a huge issue,” Martin said. “I had several FBS scholarship offers, but I knew Columbia was where I wanted to be. Being able to make that a possibility for me was the best decision that I’ve ever made, even more impactful than playing football in the NFL. Playing football and graduating from Columbia has opened so many doors and provided so many opportunities for me. In the spirit of giving back, I have to say that I’m trying to involve myself in the community, specifically in the Harlem neighborhood and was nominated to the Harlem School of the Arts Board of Directors. Having Columbia on my resume has helped me and it will continue to help me when my football playing days are over. I have to say that Mr. Kraft made all of that possible.”
Kraft was introduced by both Patricia and Shepard Alexander Head Coach of Football Al Bagnoli and Campbell Family Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Peter Pilling. Pilling promised to purchase a championship ring for Mr. Kraft should Columbia win an Ivy League football championship in the future.
“It’s amazing how in life, some things go full circle,” Pilling said. “And today is a great example. To think about Mr. Kraft’s scholarship recipients and to be able to look at the facts around the group collectively with a variety of professions including architects, doctors, entrepreneurs, military service, we are very grateful for what we do and how we are represented by our former student-athletes. It is a proud moment for us to make this connection today. Mr. Kraft has been a great supporter of our athletics program and this university.”
In addition, Kraft took time out to speak to the current 2018 Columbia Lions. His message was about how beneficial playing football has been for him.
“There is no better experience in life than playing the game of football,” Kraft said. “Of all the great things you experience at Columbia, the highlight will be playing football and what you build together. The camaraderie, relationships and what you build together as a team is priceless. Nothing beats winning. What you experience now can be frustrating at times, but it will be the best experience of your whole life.”
“You are all very fortunate to be a part of an environment and organization who gets it. Last year, we (Columbia and the New England Patriots) both came close to accomplishing something very special. All the resources are here and the commitment is here. We learned in the NFL that great players don’t win championships; great teams win championships. That’s our edge in the NFL that we can play with less material. I’ll be rooting hard for you. You’re my second favorite team!”