By Scott Sudikoff
For Harvard senior defensive lineman Stone Hart, playing a sport in college is a means to an end.
"Sports were always a way for me to get into college," said Hart. "I'm not playing a sport for my parents to cheer me on, it's so I can go to college and have a career."
Hart, who grew up in Olympia, Washington with a single mom, is used to being an underdog in his life.
"I was always the kid that had to get myself to practice and figure out how I was paying my athletic fee," Hart explained. "There wasn't always someone cheering in the stands for me, but I took a lot of pride in being in the driver seat in my career."
Stone's mother, Olivia, has been a great source of inspiration due to what she did to make sure that her children had a good life. When he started to play sports, she was working while beginning to take classes at a community college.
"She told me that I could keep playing in high school if I consistently took honors and AP classes while getting more A's than B's," said Hart. "Meanwhile seeing her strive to achieve a degree was inspiring."
Hart has two younger siblings for whom he tries to be a good role model for much like his mother has been for him.
"I am trying to be an example for them, that's why Harvard mattered so much, to be able to show them the value of an education," added Hart.
Hart points to his first passion before football, music, as his main outlet that started him down the path towards Harvard.
"I was in band since fourth grade, and it was the type of structure that sports had, and I found that in band first," explained Hart. "It helped my ability to sift through textbooks and readings, so music was always super important to me."
While in high school in Washington, Hart also competed on the wrestling team. With his mindset to be able to get to college, he was not focused on one sport over the other.
"My focus was to make sure I got a college education," said Hart. "I was blessed enough for Harvard football to contact me, so I took the opportunity. It was a coin toss for which sport would work out."
The recruiting process for every athlete is unique, and it was no different for Hart.
"I was having a couple wrestling coaches send me stuff," explained Hart. "I didn't really feel that confident about myself as a football player."
That confidence factor would change drastically when Hart would get a surprise visit during a class one day.
"I remember sitting in Spanish class and hearing my teacher say, 'there's a coach from Harvard here to talk to you' … my jaw honestly just dropped!" Hart described. "Eventually my mom was able to sit me down about the Harvard opportunity and told me that I should seize it."
Before Harvard would officially offer Stone a spot on the team, he had to spend a postgraduate year at Phillips Exeter in New Hampshire to develop physically and intellectually. Hart did have options to go to college and play elsewhere.
"It wasn't an easy choice, the extra year of high school, but I definitely needed the time to mature," Hart said. "It gave me a lot more opportunities and I was able to educate myself more on the recruiting process."
Once Hart attended Phillips Exeter he narrowed his college search to the Ivy League exclusively, but at the end of it all, he received the offer from the school he wanted to be at.
"I garnered attention from a good amount of Ivy League schools," explained Hart. "I was able to talk to Harvard and tell them I was getting interest from others."
From there Harvard recognized his ability, they liked his film and they gave Hart the offer to come to Cambridge.
Once Hart arrived at campus in the fall, he wanted to make an early impression, even if it was at his own expense.
"I love being the underdog, and there were a lot of older guys that didn't like that I would go super hard [in practice], but that's what I was doing my freshman year," said Hart. "A lot of the guys didn't like me, but they made me better and helped me become far more resilient."
Unfortunately, an injury in 2016 kept Hart out of action, and once again put him in an underdog role when he attempted to make his comeback in 2017.
"I personally loved it, feeling like an underdog, as I wanted be the Ivy League's best kept secret," Hart described. "I felt in my heart I was a really good player and not everyone knew it yet."
The determination of Hart has not gone unnoticed from Tim Murphy, The Thomas Stephenson Family Head Coach for Harvard Football.
"Through dedication and hard work, Stone has developed into an outstanding student-athlete, on and off the field," said Murphy. "When at his best he is extremely tough to block and creates plays for our second level players."
Entering his final year on campus in Cambridge, Hart has already learned a lot about being an example for the younger generation. Wisdom that he wants to pass down.
"On the field enthusiasm and grit are contagious," Hart said. "Off the field treat people with respect and carry yourself with distinction."
While Stone describes his mother as a great source of inspiration, he has found another source over the last year while at Harvard.
"Ben Abercrombie, what I've learned from him is to never stop fighting even if you're hurt or there's adversity that sets you back," explained Hart. "He's a perfect example of that, and to me no one has been more inspirational than Ben."
With what Hart had to do to earn his Harvard career he can certainly be an inspiration to others like him trying to follow in his footsteps.
"Play on the field like you're the best, study in the classroom like you're the best, carry yourself like you're the best," Hart said. "No one knows who the champions of tomorrow will be, so why not make it you."
Advice that we can certainly all use.