By Scott Sudikoff
Playing on the offensive line might not be a glamorous position in football and Harvard senior center Jackson Ward has learned that it is all about the team when it comes to his performance on the field.
The economics concentrator from Westport, Conn., who was a three-year letter-winner and captain at Staples High School, started playing the game a little later than most.
Growing up in Connecticut, Ward was the perfect age to take in the beginning of the New England Patriots' run of Super Bowls. He credits the 2004 Super Bowl victory and even the disappointment of a lost perfect season as watershed moments in his football life.
Although Ward was a fan of the game, he did not begin to play until sixth grade.
"I knew how awesome this sport was, but my parents didn't allow us [he and his brothers] to play," Ward explained. "I was a fan a long time before I started to play."
Eventually Ward himself and his parents had to be convinced that playing at an organized level was a good idea.
"It did bother me [not playing]," said Ward. "A lot of people I had played baseball and basketball with also played football and I was frustrated to not join them."
Ward credits friend and former teammate at Staples High, Ben Thaw, who currently is a defensive back at Wesleyan University, with being the one to successfully lobby for Jackson to get on the field and play.
"His dad was the coach of the youth team," added Ward. "He played quarterback and I think he wanted someone to stand in front of him and take a hit for once."
So, in the sixth grade, Ward was able to take the field and start playing. He did not start his football career on the offensive line though.
"I wasn't able to play the offensive line until freshman year of high school," said Ward. "I didn't have any idea what was going on [at first], so they stuck me at defensive line. All you got to do is run around and make a play."
During this time, Ward stayed active with other sports, including baseball and basketball.
"Basketball was probably what I liked most growing up," Ward declared. "But football came along and obviously brought me to a good place."
Eventually Ward made his way into high school and joined the team at Staples where he became a center as a sophomore, the position that he has held on to ever since.
"Our youth coach transitioned up with us [to the high school team] so it really got us ready for high school," Ward said. "The program is taken pretty seriously in Connecticut and everyone really bought in, so it was a relatively easy transition to high school."
For an offensive lineman, the recruiting process for college can be difficult because there aren't a ton of statistical ways to measure a lineman's play. Ward's initiative and clear picture of what he wanted was what propelled him forward.
"The college process for me happened a little later," Ward stated. "It happened after my junior year when I went to the camp circuit which included Boston College and Harvard camps. Just going out there and giving it a shot."
Luckily for Ward, he performed well, and the Crimson coaches took notice, and Harvard was where he put most of his focus.
"If I got that [a Harvard offer], that's 100-percent where I was going to go," Ward declared. "And going into it I knew exactly what the Harvard program was about having been to the Harvard-Yale game a few times at the Yale Bowl."
Those experiences at the "The Game" are a big reason why Ward is spending his days in Cambridge now.
"The atmosphere those games give off, sets the bar for the rest of the colleges around the country," Ward asserted.
While at the Crimson camp, Ward was called into meet one-on-one with the Thomas Stephenson Family Head Coach for Harvard Football, Tim Murphy.
"My heart was racing the entire time," Ward admitted. "I left the conversation thinking it went well."
Jackson's assessment was correct. Just a few days later, the phone rang, and former Harvard assistant coach Jeremy Bandy was on the other end with a formal offer to join the Crimson.
"My parents were on the other line… 'Yup, we accept!'" Ward chuckled.
Choosing Harvard was even easier because Ward felt comfortable with the coaching style of Murphy.
"He reminded me of the coaches I grew up with," said Ward. "He emphasizes playing your part and is very straight-forward with how he feels about you."
Coach Murphy has very high praise for the 6-foot-3, 270-pound center.
"We have had some really great athletes on the offensive line, several of whom are currently playing in the NFL," said Murphy. "Jackson might be the most athletic center we have ever had, and his potential is considerable."
Ward may have only played nine games in his first three seasons at Harvard, but he is poised to be the mainstay at the center position in 2019.
"As a center you need to focus more than anything, on the bigger picture," Ward described. "Don't get a one-track mind as you have to tell everyone else [on the line] what to do and pick up the different schemes being run on us."
Graduation is around the corner, and that's something Ward will cherish.
"The one thing I'll think about the most [in the future] is the people I came in with and graduate with in 2020," said Ward. "Not everyone [on campus] knows what you're going through, but everyone around you [on the team] does."
What makes Harvard a special place to play? Ward sums it up nicely.
"I get chills every time I walk into Harvard Stadium on game day," Ward was quick to say. "You're thinking about the 10,000 Men of Harvard, all the people that came before us and how revolutionary the program is."
Ward and the Crimson hope to make those that came before them proud in 2019 with another Ivy League championship.