Written Senior Perspective - Alex White, Football

Photo by Gil Talbot
Photo by Gil Talbot

The 2019 Senior Perspectives is the 14th 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.

Alex White
Leverett House
Harvard Football
Concentration: Biomedical Engineering

The day I showed up on campus for preseason camp my freshman year I was in pretty rough shape. I had re-torn my right shoulder labrum my senior year of high school, and suffered a lumbar disc injury lifting weights. The day of our first practice, my position coach pulled me into his office and recommended that I return home for the fall and forego my freshman year of college to get healthy. What a start. I was facing two major surgeries before I even played my first snap of college football. I remember calling my parents with tears in my eyes. This was the first time I had really been away from home, and it was looking like I was headed right back to North Carolina. My mom certainly cleared that up for me, adamantly stating that I was not to return home and that I was there to take care of academics first. She was all business, and she was right. At the time, I didn’t realize how pivotal that conversation would be for the rest of my college career. 

Harvard football demands excellence. We are a heavily decorated program with many championships, professional talent, and successful alumni. I felt the weight of this expectation when I wasn’t able to suit up for even a single rep my freshman year, out for the season with a shoulder surgery and a rigorous back rehab program that I still continue to this day. Harvard football did not stop to make excuses for me. Instead, it demanded excellence from me. I understood that the way I was to garner respect on this team was to put my head down and work. It was coach Murph’s way; it was coach Lark’s way – hell, it was the only way. Harvard football, even at the earliest stages, showed me that hard work pays off. The only way I could “win” that first semester was to dominate in school. As I came into my sophomore year and beyond, I saw this mentality was infectious, penetrating into practice, games, and even my career pursuits. 

My personal career here was full of many highs and lows, as it is for so many Harvard student-athletes. Injuries were all too common, and I ended up with three surgeries, many soft tissue tears and a couple of broken fingers to cap my football career. Perhaps the most important thing I have learned over these past five years is how to fight back from tough circumstances. How to grin at adversity and swallow it whole. What many people don’t realize, even at Harvard, is how committed each student-athlete is to their craft. We are considered regular students who receive no additional scholarships or academic help. But we aren’t regular students. We are much more than that, receiving an entire education on how to deal with some of life’s hardest challenges through intense discipline. We somehow find a way to devote forty hours to our top priority, our sport, and then carve out enough time to be a student at this tremendous institution. We succeed at it. Why? We understand what an incredible and life-changing opportunity we have been given, and we want to make good on that opportunity. Harvard Athletics, and Harvard football in particular, instill in you a roaring motivation to wildly succeed in all aspects of life. The best part is, this roaring motivation is manifested as a quiet resilience. A resilience to make things work. To pay attention in class when your back is hurting so badly you have stand up to focus on the professor. A resilience that keeps pushing for that next championship ring, and a resilience to learn from that heartbreak when you fall short. 

When I think of Harvard football, I think of my teammates who became family. They suffered alongside me, they overcame immense adversity and I have the utmost respect for these men. As a fifth-year player, you gain a new perspective on yourself and your team. You realize that the program extends far beyond your name, and you realize how special it is to be a part of something bigger than yourself. I am so proud to have finished this season with three consecutive, critical Ivy victories and a storied, dominant performance over Yale at Fenway Park. That’s what I’ll remember. Grabbing my coach and hugging the hell out of him, not saying a word, because he gets it. Harvard football has been the richest component of my educational experience. Harvard football taught me some of life’s hardest lessons, and it has been the most defining aspect of my adult life.