When Premier League legend and former New York City manager Patrick Viera says of someone; “technically he’s really good…his football brain is fantastic,” people sit up and take notice.
That’s exactly what Viera said about 23-year-old Jack Harrison, whose journey to signing a deal with Manchester City went through Sheffield, Massachusetts.
Harrison, who raised in Bolton, England made the move to the US and attended Berkshire School after seven years in Manchester United’s academy. At age 14, Harrison flew to Sheffield and never looked back, leaving a lasting impression on the program and capping off his time in Sheffield with a National Boys Soccer Player of the Year award. The talented midfielder scored 16 goals and finished with 27 assists in his 2015 campaign as Berkshire won their third straight New England Prep School Athletic Council Class A Championship with a 19-2-1 record.
That domination continued in Harrison’s one and only year with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Listed at 5’9” and 155lbs, Harrison started in all 22 of his games at Wake Forest, netting eight goals and 11 assists in an eye-catching freshman campaign. The accolades kept coming for Harrison, as he was named the ACC Offensive Player and Freshman of the Year, marking the first time anyone has claimed both awards in the same season.
Harrison was drafted no. 1 overall by the Chicago Fire in the 2016 MLS draft, becoming the first men’s soccer player from Wake Forest to be drafted no. 1. His time at the Fire was over before it began, as Harrison was traded to New York City FC. Despite injuries impacting his first few months at New York City, Harrison made 56 appearances and scored 14 goals with New York City, all before his 21st birthday.
Perhaps the most exciting moment of Harrison’s career thus far was his call-up to the English U21 National Team, proving there is no defined blueprint to playing at that level. Speaking to Sky Sports about Harrison’s call-up, England U21 manager Aidy Boothroyd echoed that sentiment.
"It shows you the pathway has changed or is changing," Boothroyd said.
"There's no hard or fast route [for call-ups]. Some go abroad and play, and now we have someone who goes away, ends up playing for New York City and does really well."
Less than four months after debuting for England at the U21 level, Harrison signed a three and a half year deal with Manchester City, cementing himself as a top prospect and completing a more unconventional journey than most to the Sky Blues.
Despite interest from European clubs at the end of his time at Wake Forest, one reason Harrison opted for the MLS was the ability to continue his education. "The main reason why I came out here was to gain a good education,” Harrison told ESPN FC. “If anything happened in football, I could fall back on that [education].”
Southern New Hampshire University is the official education partner of the MLS, and offers flexible online education for players and staff members.
There is no doubt Jack Harrison’s path to the Premier League was unconventional. But the more it is explored, the more it shapes as an option for talented teenagers seeking high quality education, invaluable life experience and an opportunity to improve their game. In today’s digital age and with more opportunities than ever, the ‘one size fits all’ attitude to achieving success in professional sport is outdated, as evidenced by Harrison’s journey.
With colleges across the US expanding their recruitment and adjusting their offerings to reflect the ever-changing world, there are more opportunities for potential professionals than ever. However without success stories like Harrison’s, opportunities remain just that. Harrison’s commitment, talent and success ensure those ‘opportunities’ turn into viable career options, both on the pitch and off it.