Berkshire School's Jack Harrison feeling at home with NYCFC

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FOXBOROUGH — A year ago, Jack Harrison had recorded a pair of assists in the fifth soccer match of his college career.

Fast forward 12 months, and the 19-year-old graduate of Berkshire School in Sheffield finds himself in the midst of a battle for a conference championship and a possible Major League Soccer championship.

Last year, Harrison found himself on the pitch against many of the best players in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Now, he's playing alongside such soccer luminaries as Frank Lampard and David Villa with the New York City Football Club.

"It's been crazy," Harrison said in the NYCFC locker room at Gillette Stadium last Saturday night, after his team lost 3-1 to the New England Revolution.

"Just graduating from Berkshire in the spring of last year and then going to college," he said. "Now, I'm playing alongside Lampard here.

"It's just a dream come true. I'm really grateful for my mum [Deborah Harrison] for giving me this opportunity and for putting faith in me."

For the non-soccer fan, Frank Lampard came to the United States after a storied career with Chelsea of the English Premier League. Lampard is Chelsea's all-time leading goal scorer with 211 goals in 648 games. He has 106 caps with the English National Team, and has scored 29 goals in those games.

He was members of three Premier League championship teams and was on a UEFA Champions League champ in 2011-12.

Villa, one of Harrison's other famous teammates, was a member of Spain's World Cup championship team in 2010. The year before Lampard's team won the Champions League, Villa's Barcelona squad took home the trophy.

For the uninitiated in soccer, it might be like a rookie playing alongside Eli Manning.

To say that Jack Harrison is riding a whirlwind would be an understatement.

Harrison, who only turns 20 on Nov. 11, graduated from Berkshire School in the spring of 2015, as the Massachusetts and national Gatorade boys soccer player of the year. He was a two-time All-American at Berkshire School, and scored 24 goals in three seasons.

It wasn't that long ago that Harrison was studying and playing soccer in Sheffield. He has fond memories of where he spent three years.

"Berkshire School was the best part," he said. "Spending three years was probably the best decision of my life, and again, I'm thankful to my mum for that."

Last fall, the native of Stoke-on-Trent, England, helped lead Wake Forest into the NCAA Division I tournament. The Demon Deacons lost 2-1 in overtime to Stanford in the third round of the tournament.

Harrison was the 2015 ACC offensive player of the year and freshman of the year, earning first-team honors as a National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-American. In 22 starts at Wake, Harrison scored eight goals and had 11 assists.

The second semester had just started at Wake when Harrison was taken first overall in the MLS Super Draft by Chicago, who later traded his rights to the NYCFC.

For the record, Harrison was only the second athlete in Wake Forest University history to be a first overall pick in a professional draft. The other player was future Basketball Hall of Famer Tim Duncan in 1997.

Harrison started the season on the injured list with a pelvic injury. He was with the team but did not train much in Florida, where the team was before the start of the 2016 season. It took Harrison until the 13th match to get on the pitch. Two matches later, he was a starting forward for keeps.

"It's an amazing feeling," said Harrison, when asked about his appearance against the New York Red Bulls. "It was a great experience that I'll treasure forever."

Harrison did not play in the next match against Orlando, but he played 74 minutes in a 3-2 loss to Real Salt Lake. Since then, NYCFC has gone 8-5-2, including Saturday's loss to the Revolution. Harrison scored his first goal in the June 2 loss against Real Salt Lake, converting a pass from Villa.

Statistically, Harrison's best performance came three matches later, when he had a goal and an assist — scoring the winning tally — in a 2-0 win over the Red Bulls. Harrison's last point came on July 30, when he assisted on a goal by Lampard in a 5-1 win over Colorado.

Harrison is the only teenager in the NYCFC starting lineup, and with that, comes quite the learning curve. Standing in his team's locker room after Saturday's match, Harrison was asked when he felt he belonged on the pitch, and if it was a gradual feeling or an "ah ha" moment.

"I wouldn't say there was a specific moment," he said. "I think actually being in rehab with Frank for a little while, three or four months, really let me feel comfortable within the team.

"Once I started playing, everyone was so supportive. It was great to train with them and get that confidence so I could go out there and play."

In Saturday's loss at Gillette, Harrison played 90 minutes, starting on the right side with Villa in the middle and Colombia national Steven Mendoza on the left.

At home, NYCFC gets to play in New York City at Yankee Stadium. That's compared to the New York Red Bulls, who play in the North New Jersey suburbs.

"It's amazing. I love New York," said Harrison, of his current home. "Deep down inside, after the draft, this is where I wanted to be. With my friends being around, with a new team and with the players we have around, it's an amazing opportunity.

"I'm grateful to be here."

Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.


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