Colin Cloherty
Colin Cloherty ()

When the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons take the field this Sunday in Super Bowl 51 against the New England Patriots, Colin Cloherty will feel conflicted about which team to root for in the big game.

Cloherty, a 29-year-old native of Bethesda, Maryland, is a first-year associate at Wiley Rein, where he works in the Washington, D.C.-based Am Law 200 firm’s government contracts and white-collar defense and investigations group. After graduating from Brown University in 2009, Cloherty embarked on a four-year career as a tight end in the NFL.

In his first year with the Indianapolis Colts, which he joined after being an undrafted free agent, Cloherty was cut by the team midseason. He then joined the Cleveland Browns before the Colts re-signed him in January 2010. He was inactive when the Colts played their final game of the season a few weeks later, a stunning 31-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl.

It was with the Colts where Cloherty picked up the nickname “Ivy,” the result of the Ivy League graduate running the wrong route a few times in training camp, much to the annoyance of the Colts’ future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. Cloherty eventually got the plays down and Manning warmed up to him, but the Ivy nickname stuck.

Over the next few years, Cloherty played for the San Francisco 49ers and Jacksonville Jaguars. On Dec. 11, 2011, he had the highlight of his professional football career—recovering a muffed punt for a touchdown in a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Jaguars released Cloherty after the team’s first game of 2012, and it would be nearly a year before he resurfaced again with another franchise, this time the Falcons. The team was looking for tight end depth in the final season of its future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. But Cloherty didn’t make the cut. The Falcons waived him toward the end of training camp on Aug. 25, 2013. It was a Sunday and he had some big decisions to make.

After being cut by the Jaguars a year before, Cloherty said the months of subsequent inactivity had him going “stir crazy.” While working out and trying to stay in shape at his parents’ place in Bethesda, Cloherty began to contemplate life after the NFL. Nicholas Hartigan, a former teammate at Brown and star college running back, had given up a football career to attend Harvard Law School. Cloherty said that Hartigan, now a federal prosecutor in Atlanta, encouraged him to consider law school. Wiley Rein partner Scott McCaleb, another Brown alum and co-chair of the firm’s government contracts practice, also spoke with Cloherty about the possibility of a legal career.

So before he signed with the Falcons in 2013, Cloherty plunked down a deposit to attend the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law that fall. Once the Falcons signed him, Cloherty told the school he might have to defer for a year. But after being cut that fateful Sunday in late August 2013, Cloherty resolved to leave the Falcons training camp in Georgia and head all the way back to the Maryland campus for the start of the law school’s fall semester on Aug. 26.

“I drove like mad—I think I only stopped once at a Starbucks for coffee,” Cloherty said of whirlwind 24-hour period that saw him switch from NFL tight end to first-year law student. He noted that when he showed up at Maryland for his first day of law school, some thought that their new 6-foot, 2-inch, 250-pound classmate might be in the wrong class.

Cloherty has since shed some of his playing weight, but he has used his status as an ex-NFL player to speak publicly about issues affecting his former brethren, such as concussions, while also focusing on his new career as a lawyer. As a first-year associate he’s not yet ready to start bringing in clients, but Wiley Rein was a natural starting point for his first job in private practice. He previously worked as a summer associate at the firm in Washington, D.C., where he also spent a summer as a marketing intern a decade ago.

This Sunday, Cloherty will watch the Falcons and their star quarterback Matt Ryan, whose young brother John played football at Brown, take on the Patriots. But he has yet to decide on which team he will root for during the game. Cloherty once caught passes from Ryan in Falcons’ training camp, although he still remains slightly miffed that the team spelled the end of his time in the NFL. And playing for the Patriots is fullback James Develin, a friend and former teammate of Cloherty’s at Brown. He has a personal history with both teams.

“It’s a tough one,” Cloherty said.

 

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