by Scott Sudikoff
From being a four-year-old wearing a Jerry Rice jersey to being the 143rd captain in Harvard history, Sean Ahern has had a long-standing love affair with the game of football.
Ahern's father, who played at Brown, was his earliest influence in the game.
"The thrill of catching the ball and trying to beat my record was how I got started," Ahern added.
From there he was off to the races, beginning to play organized football in the third grade.
"I loved the competition aspect of it," according to Ahern. "Playing with your friends and having friendships turn into brotherhoods. It's hours and hours of work and there's really no point in doing it if you don't love it."
A watershed moment for Ahern in his early football career came as a freshman at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. At that point he was also a talented golfer as well, and with both golf and football being fall season sports, he needed to make a decision.
"As a freshman, I was maybe 5-foot-6, 110 pounds," said Ahern. "I was tiny, but I was always tough so I decided to stick with football."
In one of his first practices Ahern earned the moniker of "The Animal" from one of his defensive backs coach, Nick Lyle, after getting the best of a much larger opponent. Lyle, also a product of St. Xavier, came back to coach after a college career at Vanderbilt University.
"He made it a blast for me to play," Ahern explained. "Size didn't really matter to him and he gave me the confidence to play at a small size."
Since St. Xavier had a large football roster pool, players had the ability to focus on one position and were not forced into multiple spots. This allowed Ahern to specifically play cornerback, a position he still plays today.
"One of the main things that goes into playing corner is that it's one of the easiest positions to learn, but one of the toughest to play," said Ahern. "In my ninth year of playing cornerback, it has become instinctive for me."
The possibility of playing football in college came about for Ahern during his junior season in high school, where he landed his first starting role on the varsity team.
"St. Xavier has a pretty reputable program which definitely helped me in getting interest from schools," explained Ahern. "If I can get into an Ivy League school then why wouldn't I pursue this?"
Another boost for Ahern and his future career at Harvard was the rigorous academic curriculum at St. Xavier.
"It was the same type of environment [as Harvard], trying to balance athletics and academics," said Ahern. "It was never really a concern for me whether or not I could manage both football and academics."
Ahern almost found his way to another Ivy League school before coming to Harvard. He had originally committed to Cornell, but after the coach that recruited him left Ithaca for another job, Ahern re-evaluated his situation.
The continuity with Harvard, and specifically the Thomas Stephenson Family Head Coach Tim Murphy, is what ultimately led Ahern to Cambridge.
"Sean is the total package as a student-athlete," said Murphy. "Tough, smart, skilled and a proven leader. Our belief is that Sean will be the top corner in the Ivy League."
During his time on campus, Ahern has earned the trust and admiration of his teammates, which led him to being elected as the 143rd captain in team history.
"I was amazed and honored by my teammates for trusting me in the next step of this program," said Ahern. "I thought about all the guys who had been captains before me and it lit a fire in my belly."
"It's a tremendous honor being in the same category as guys like Matt Koran '16 and Norman Hayes '15, two of my best friends."
When you talk to Ahern's current teammates, you get glowing recommendations.
"Ahern is a great kid," said senior offensive lineman Max Rich. "The most experienced on the team, a two-time All-Ivy League guy who is just a fantastic player and knows everything that is going on."
Senior defensive lineman James Duberg has similar feelings.
"There's a couple of reasons why he's captain," said Duberg. "His intensity with every football event, the leaderships skills he possesses and the way guys rally around him. He leads by example."
As the 2016 senior class comes to the end of their Harvard careers, they have one last chance to take the field in The Game against Yale. A rivalry that many players didn't realize the importance of until they saw it first hand as freshmen.
"I honestly had no idea about the scope of Harvard-Yale," Ahern explained. "You start to figure it out when you see all the alums coming back and showing their pride."
What makes this game stand out from the rest?
"Every play you're trying to bring it as hard as you can, more than any game on the entire schedule," said Ahern. "You know the [Yale] guy across from you is doing the same. I don't want them to catch a single ball all game."
Recently for Harvard there has been the added importance of a championship being on the line against Yale, which only increases the excitement and passion.
"There's nothing to leave out on the field at all, especially for the seniors," added Ahern. "We see guys do things they haven't done all year. The effort given is second to none."
Being an athlete at an Ivy League school is more than just a four-year commitment, it's a legacy that can last forever, and for Ahern he has a specific way he would like to be remembered.
"I want to be remembered how I remember Norman [Hayes] and Matt [Koran]," said Ahern. "Intense, fun guys that were a pleasure to be around every day."