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.
Jack Stansell, Football
Hometown: Dothan, Ala.
House Affiliation: Leverett
I’ll never forget the first conversation I had with Coach Murphy. I was called over the intercom to come down to the front office of Dothan High School, and when I got there I found my high school offensive coordinator, Coach Sullivan, and Principal Eldridge waiting for me. Coach Sullivan handed me his phone and told me that he’d just placed a call, Coach Murphy of Harvard Football would be on the other end. During the ensuing conversation, Coach Murphy told me that from watching my film and through conversations with my coaches he believed I was the type of high-character blue-collar guy that is built for Harvard football. He said he valued my toughness, versatility, and work ethic. Then he said that I had a spot on his team – he wanted me to come play at Harvard.
Though the magnitude of the opportunity to attend Harvard as a student-athlete was apparent to me immediately, it wasn’t an easy decision to make. I’d always dreamed of playing college football, but up until Coach Murphy’s call I’d never really considered playing in the Ivy League. I expected I’d play somewhere in the Southeast and hoped I’d play in packed stadiums for a team in the SEC. Ultimately, Coach Murphy, his staff, and the players made my decision clear – Harvard was the best place for me. Now, over five years since making the decision to attend Harvard, as I sit in the living room of my apartment looking at the Harvard Football banner hanging high across the mantle with my helmet resting below, I couldn’t be more thankful and proud to have spent the past four and a half years donning the #87 crimson jersey and strapping up my helmet to battle day in and day out in historic Harvard Stadium alongside some of the best friends I’ve ever had.
A few things make Harvard football special to me. First, Harvard football gave me the opportunity and confidence to pursue my interests and develop myself in every facet, not only as a football player. As a Harvard football player, I got to TF a class, take part in two summer research experiences at other universities, write a senior engineering thesis, help lead a Bible study, be a leader on the field, and win two Ivy League championships. There aren’t many other football programs in the country where all of that would have been possible.
Second, being a Harvard football player is hard – and that’s what makes it so rewarding. It’s not easy to get up at 5:15 AM for over half of the year and head directly to an exhausting workout. It’s not easy to leave Dillon Fieldhouse at 7:30 PM with your body aching to go work in the lab until after midnight. It’s not easy to memorize the offensive game-plan for Saturday and study everything you need to know for your Signals and Systems midterm on Monday. But as a Harvard football player, you learn how to do hard things for yourself and for your teammates, and because of that I am confident in my preparation for life beyond Harvard.
The third – and most important – thing that makes Harvard football special is my teammates. They’re some of the best people I know. They’re committed, they’re respectful, they’re resilient, they’re trustworthy, they’re gritty, and the list can go on and on. A few of these guys were my blockmates during my time at Harvard. We were an extremely close knit group that made many memories on and off the field during our time together at Harvard, and getting to know and grow close to those guys was one of the greatest parts of my Harvard experience. I’m immensely thankful to Harvard football for bringing us to the same place.
This past fall, I came back to Harvard to play a fifth and final season, granted as the result of a season-ending knee injury my junior year. I came back because I loved playing Harvard football and I wanted one more chance to pursue a third Ivy League championship, Harvard history, and my individual goals. Though the season didn’t go the way I’d expected, I am so thankful that I came back. I was part of a team that finished the season strong, dominating Penn and Yale despite being out of championship contention. I helped pass Harvard football tradition to a new generation of Crim. And I learned the valuable lesson of how critical it is as an athlete to embrace and maximize the characteristics that make you an important member of your team. For me, those characteristics were the same ones that Coach Murphy said he identified during our first conversation – and now I’m forever proud to be one of ten thousand.