Harvard Football Program Feature Story: Liam Shanahan

Liam Shanahan action shot
Photo Courtesy: Gil Talbot.

By Scott Sudikoff

After watching from the sidelines for the entirety of his first year at Harvard, offensive lineman Liam Shanahan has made the most of his opportunities on the field since, becoming an All-Ivy League selection as a junior. Now as a senior, the economics concentrator from Marlborough, Mass., is ready to do whatever he needs to do to help the Crimson to a successful season.

Shanahan's introduction to football came at a different local school, Boston College. His grandfather, Tom Lane, was an offensive lineman for the Eagles, and Liam grew up attending games with him.

"It was just cool getting to see the games," said Shanahan. "It was awesome to see the big spectacle."

Due to Shanahan's size as a kid, he was not permitted to play in the youth leagues. It was not until seventh grade when the size restrictions were lifted that Liam could officially play organized football. Even though his friends got to play sooner, it didn't bother him.

"To be honest, I did have friends playing," Shanahan explained. "It wasn't too upsetting because I played a bunch of sports, so I kept busy."

Shanahan certainly stayed busy while playing soccer, basketball, baseball, lacrosse and even deck hockey. When seventh grade rolled around though, he was ready to don the pads and helmet on the football field.

"I enjoyed it right from the start," Shanahan recounted. "It was interesting transitioning from other sports since football is of a different nature than other sports in terms of the physicality."

Naturally due to his size, coaches tried to make Shanahan play on the offensive line, but by his own admission, he refused and dabbled in some playing time at fullback and linebacker.

Shanahan's big break came as a sophomore in high school where he saw time as an offensive line starter for the varsity team at Marlborough High School.

"One of my older teammates at the time, I modeled my play after," Shanahan explained. "I learned to really embrace the physicality and toughness of the offensive line."

Even when it wasn't football season, Shanahan was still very active athletically, competing in four other sports at the varsity level; basketball, baseball, track and lacrosse.

When it came to the college recruiting process, Shanahan did not have plans to leave the Massachusetts area.

"I wanted to stay local because I have a pretty big family," said Shanahan. "I like having them as a resource nearby and for them to be able to come to games."

After attending a Harvard camp before his junior season, Shanahan started to get some interest from the Crimson, and eventually committed to the program in the summer before his senior year of high school.

"The first time I met with coaches and saw campus, it was a very natural feel," Shanahan explained. "Obviously it's very hard to turn down an education from Harvard, and it fit the criteria for me being close to home."

Heading into his freshman season, Shanahan knew it would be tough to find playing time with the depth that the offensive line had, so he made sure to use that time as a learning tool.

"I knew going in as an offensive lineman that it'd be tough to get time on the field," Shanahan said. "It was good just having a year to soak in college football and see the difference between high school and college athletics in general."

Of course, there's the added pressure of following in the footsteps of great Harvard linemen that have gone onto the professional ranks as well. Although, it wasn't pressure for Shanahan.

"Honestly it was motivation," Shanahan declared. "These guys have gone through the program and had that success and it's something I ultimately want to do and work hard to be like them."

When Shanahan's sophomore season rolled around, a starting spot on the offensive line opened, and he started all 10 games at guard. He also had the chance to go up against stiff competition in practice to help build his skills.

"Going up against an interior guy who pushed me like Richie Ryan [was beneficial]," Shanahan said. "He was one of the best defensive tackles in the league."

Then in 2018, Shanahan showed his versatility, starting all 10 games at tackle and earning All-Ivy League second-team honors. He found another great teammate to battle with at practice.

"When I transitioned out to tackle for junior year, I'd go up against Brogan McPartland," Shanahan explained. "I knew I wasn't going to be seeing guys in games that can do more than him."

Ryan of course ended up as a two-time All-Ivy League honoree, graduating from the team last year, while McPartland is a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy as part of the 2019 team.

Coming into his senior season Shanahan still had improvements that he aimed to make.

"I wanted to work on foot speed in space for going against faster guys on the outside," Shanahan noted. "Also, my versatility in case I need to shift back to guard, and to be able to do whatever is necessary."

Having been in the program for over three seasons now, Shanahan has a clear vision of what has made the Harvard program so successful over the years.

"The stability with Coach Murphy and the very efficient system in terms of scheduling," Shanahan described. "And it really comes down to the kids they recruit and everyone holding each other accountable. Everyone buys into taking the next step for the program."

Tim Murphy, the Thomas Stephenson Family Head Coach for Harvard Football, has strong words about Shanahan as well.

"Liam is the epitome of the type of kid we want to recruit in the offensive line," said Murphy. "He is tough and embraces the physical part of the game. Because of those attributes he is a leader by example and has the potential play at the next level."

In the end, what would Shanahan's pitch be to a prospective Harvard student-athlete?

"You can get the best of both worlds at Harvard, football and academics," Shanahan exclaimed. "If you come to Harvard, you're not going to regret it."