Berkshire School graduate Harrison ready for NYCFC opportunity
To get from the pitch at the Berkshire School in Sheffield to the field at Yankee Stadium in New York City, Jack Harrison first had to hit the top of the Major League Soccer world.
On Thursday, Harrison — a 2015 graduate from Berkshire — was taken as the No. 1 overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft. He was selected by the Chicago Fire and brought before the media adorning the white-and-red scarf of the team. He thanked the Fire for taking a chance on him and promised to bring his all to the team.
Then, he was ushered off stage and told to wait with his mom, Deborah.
An hour later, Harrison went back in front of the media wearing the colors of New York City FC after the club executed a trade for him.
A whirlwind afternoon, for sure, but one that the Bolton, England, native was both thrilled and humbled to experience.
"Yeah, it's been very hectic but at the same time very exciting," Harrison said in an interview with The Eagle on Friday. "I'm just so grateful for this opportunity. I've just been so grateful for everything, really, and it's been just a whirlwind."
And it's that sense of humility that's propelled Harrison to where he is now.
Harrison's journey has been unique, to say the least. A product of the Manchester United youth academy, where he was from age 7 until he came to the U.S. and the Berkshire School, the idea of the MLS, a draft, being traded — all of those little intricacies he experienced Thursday — were completely foreign to a 14-year-old, let alone living in a different country.
That's where the Berkshire School and its head soccer coach Jon Moodey stepped in.
"The Berkshire community just helped me feel so comfortable when I first came here," Harrison said. "It made it easier to achieve my goals and have greater ambitions, as well.
"When you surround yourself with people who want the same as you and the best out of everything, it makes everything so much easier. I only got them to thank, really, for preparing me for everything that I'll have in the future. It's definitely been one of the best experiences of my life, just going to Berkshire School. It's created so much for me, I'm just so thankful."
That nurturing now has him wearing the sky blue of NYCFC, and being coached by one of his soccer idols, Patrick Vieira. Throw in the fact that Vieira and the team had to go out of their way to acquire him, and Harrison was left in awe Thursday.
"He's always been a legend in my eyes, to even just get under the coaching staff with him is just a dream come true, really," Harrison said. "I couldn't ask for any more. He's been so nice, as well. Ever since, all our conversations since the draft, he's said he's going to work me hard but at the same time look after me.
"It's been so humbling to have him trade up for me, and I'm just going to work hard for him and do whatever he needs, really, because he's obviously a legend in my eyes."
That hard work is what attracted NYCFC to Harrison.
His numbers, no matter where, are staggering. He tallied 44 goals and 65 assists in his career at the Berkshire School. He won three NEPSAC Class A championships over his final three years, was a two-time Gatorade Massachusetts Player of the Year and the National Player of the Year as a senior, and was named to numerous All-American teams. He also excelled in squash — where he won a NEPSAC individual title despite never playing the sport before high school — and mountain biking. He was involved in non-athletic activities at Berkshire, and even posted the highest GPA of his high school career in his final semester, almost a year after being accepted to Wake Forest.
He also was a key cog for the Manhattan Soccer Club, a club team he played with while at Berkshire. He helped Manhattan SC win a U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship.
As a Demon Deacon, Harrison continued his growth. He scored eight goals and had 11 assists in his freshman campaign and his 27 points led the team. He also earned ACC Offensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors. Wake was the No. 1 ranked team in the country in the regular season, and Harrison's side made it to the Elite Eight.
For Moodey, the success Harrison has achieved hasn't surprised him.
"I think he was a complete player," Moodey said. "He is complete in every sense of being a high level athlete. What I mean by that is that he has the skill level, the athleticism, and he has the head.
"No matter what he does, he wins. He's a competitive guy, but it never gets the best of him. He's just the consummate team player and he has this inner sort of drive to be successful at whatever he does."
Harrison, for his part, credited Moodey with helping him evolve as a player.
"[Moodey's] been one of the best coaches I've ever had," Harrison said. "There is something special about [him]. He's been like my second father since I've moved out here."
Moodey said that when he first laid eyes on Harrison, he didn't know how good a player the young man would become. Harrison's first trip stateside was by himself. He stayed with Moodey and his family for a week to take in Berkshire School, and Harrison said he knew almost immediately that the school was a fit.
That, though, meant leaving his mother back in England. He thanked his mom for making one of the toughest sacrifices a mother has to make — letting her kid go.
"She just opened the door for me, really, and it was up to me whether I walked through it or not.
"She said, 'If you like it out there you can stay, and if you don't we can come back and work on something different.' But ever since stepping on that campus, I've loved every moment of it. It's just been something so special. It is nice to kind of thank my mom just for giving me that opportunity, really, because without here none of this would have happened."
Thankfully for supporters, it did. Now, Harrison is ready to keep pushing forward. It's that competitive drive that Moodey got to witness over four years at Berkshire.
"I would say that one thing I always say about Jack is that he's one of those guys that the bigger the stage is, the better he performs," Moodey said. "He always performs well, but he is so determined to prove himself at every level."
Harrison is skilled in all three areas of the midfield. He played as a central attacking midfielder for Moodey, played some on the right in college, and grew up playing on the left.
NYCFC Coach Vieira, in interviews with the media at the draft Thursday, said he sees Harrison as a "modern winger," and with the NYCFC midfield stacked with players like Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Mix Diskerud and Kwadwo Poku, Harrison might have to move around to get game time.
Soon, he'll be playing with the professionals he grew up watching.
"I don't think it's hit me yet," Harrison said. "I don't think it will hit me until I walk in the locker room and meet those guys. I'll just be stood there in awe."
But not for too long. Harrison said he's hungry to keep growing, and he's excited to do it in New York City.
"The fans there are just amazing. I've been to a couple games, and I've always said I'd love to play in front of a crowd like that. Hopefully, I'll get my chance with my new club, New York City. It's going to be an amazing experience. I'm still not quite sure what to expect, but I'm definitely looking forward to it and learning new things."
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