The 2018 Senior Perspectives is the 13th in a series of annual collections. Senior captains and representatives of teams at Harvard have been invited to contribute viewpoints based on personal experience from both their senior seasons and full varsity careers at Harvard.
Tanner Lee, Football
Hometown:Spanish Fort, Ala.
Concentration: Applied Mathematics
House Affiliation: Leverett
When Coach Murphy called me up December of my senior year and offered me a spot to attend and play for one of the most prestigious universities in the world, there was no way I could say no. On January 20th, the day after returning home from my visit, I called him up and nervously told him, “It looks like I’ll be coming there next year.” After a few-second pause, Coach Murphy responded, “Excuse me?” I naively repeated myself word-for-word as if the phone broke up, and then he said, “It looks like or definitely?” Of course, I responded with the latter.
Coming in, I knew I could play football at a high level, but it took me time to prove myself. I was undersized and slow for a D-1 safety. Coach Larkee’s defensive playbook was 10x harder for me to learn than any material for any class at Harvard. And that’s in no way saying I had it easy on the other side of the river. I was taking a mixture of mainly economics, mathematics, and computer science classes, which aren’t a walk in the park by any means. My first year, I only played three plays at the end of the Columbia game because we were throttling them 45-0. Sophomore year, I played special teams and saw limited time on defense. The very first defensive snap I played that year, I let up an 80-yard touchdown pass against Brown at the end of the game, which didn’t affect the outcome of the game but ended up being the turning point of my career. While no one really remembers that play, it changed me. When I went home that night, I decided it was time for me to figure it out and start balling like I definitely knew I could. The next week, I blocked a punt against Georgetown.
While I suffered a season-ending concussion on a kickoff against Columbia, I couldn’t wait to prove myself further in winter workouts and spring ball. The offseason was responsible for many of my favorite Harvard memories. I don’t care what anyone says; there is nothing like waking up every morning at 5:20am to walk across the river in arctic temperatures to suffer through a workout with your teammates. Individually, I got bigger, faster, and stronger every offseason, so that by my junior season I was ready to go, up 20+ lbs. from the day I reported freshman year. That season, due to a couple of injuries to our key players in front of me, I secured one of three spots in the safety rotation. After an injury to one of our starters, I had my first start against Cornell at home. We won the game, and I finished with two interceptions and a few tackles, going on to win Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week and New England Sports Writers Gold Helmet honors. There was no turning back from there, and I started every game of my career from that point on. By the end of my senior season, I had accumulated many awards and accolades, including 2016 & 2017 All-Ivy nods, 2017 Academic All-America, and 2017 team-MVP.
The reason I wanted to briefly share my collegiate athletic journey in this reflection is to reveal what all D-1 Harvard athletes understand that non-athletes may not. Success doesn’t come easy, and the only determinant of your success in anything is you. My dad is the type to repeat quotes he likes over and over again, and one of those quotes he always says is, “The road to success is always under construction.” During my athletic career, this couldn’t have been truer. At no point, even now, do I feel I became the best football player I could be. Until my last snap, I put everything I had into the game so that I could be the best player I could be. While I still cringe when I think about a few plays I missed, I am thankful for those because all the mistakes I made drove me to work harder towards an infeasible goal to never make a mistake again.
As I enter the next phase of my life, I look back and am so thankful for the valuable lessons I have learned over the years through football. Toughness, communication, grit, teamwork, confidence, aggressiveness. I could go on and on. I cannot express in words how thankful I am for the opportunity to play football at this institution. Special thanks to Coach Murphy, Coach Crawford, Coach Larkee, my family, my friends, and last but not least my teammates. I definitely ended up in the perfect spot and will never forget the memories, lessons, and friendships gained over the last four years.