Jack Harrison’s unusual path to professional soccer stardom took him from the suburbs of Manchester, England to the quiet Berkshire mountains in Massachusetts before landing at one of the most prestigious soccer colleges in the United States. Now, with a year under his belt in the professional ranks at NYCFC, the former #1 overall pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft and current Team Bear member, sits down with us to discuss his upbringing, family, training, and how his unique experience with life and sports thus far has contributed to his personal growth.
Early Life & Upbringing: From England to New England
Bear Mattress: You’re mom seems to be a very positive force in your life and has always placed a big emphasis on education. Can you describe where this came from and her impact on your upbringing?
JH: Yes, my mom has always been my biggest supporter. I think that when I was growing up and playing with the academy team at Manchester United in England, she saw firsthand how hard it was. It was super competitive and the odds of making it were quite low. She saw a lot of other kids who didn’t make it and didn’t really have a backup plan. I think for me, she wanted there to be options in the event that it didn’t work out. She was working as an assistant in a legal office and worked all the time to support us, so I think she saw the value in education so that’s where the idea of boarding school in the U.S. came from.
Bear Mattress: When you were 14, you left England to attend boarding school in Massachusetts. When did you hear about the option of boarding school for the first time? Was it something that you were open to?
JH: My Mom first presented me with idea of boarding school when I was 12 years old. Initially, I didn’t like the idea at all and didn’t want to leave my friends and family behind. The more we talked about it thought, the more open I was to checking it out. I flew out to visit Berkshire School for the first time alone when I was 13. I met the coaches and some of the soccer players and it seemed like a good fit rather quickly. That’s when I started opening up to the idea of moving abroad more. The campus was so beautiful and as an only child, I liked the idea of dorm living. It was very different but I liked the idea of being surrounded by people my age a lot. One specific thing I remember seeing on my first trip was this MASSIVE squirrel (laughs) I’d never seen a squirrel like that in my life. That’s when I knew I was in New England.
Bear Mattress: How was the academic transition to boarding school? We’re you a good student?
JH: Initially it was pretty hard, yeah. I definitely struggled. In England, teachers we’re a lot more lenient with homework and that sort of thing. They understood that it was tough for the academy players to balance everything, and because of that they were a bit more forgiving. I think in the beginning at Berkshire I tried to get away with that mentality a bit but the teachers weren’t really having it. I learned pretty quickly that I needed to step it up in terms of the academics.
Bear Mattress: Other than soccer, did you play any other sports growing up?
JH: Yeah, actually. When I was in boarding school we were only allowed to play one sport each season. I continued to play club soccer outside of school on the weekends with the Manhattan Soccer Club and would travel down to NYC for tournaments and stuff, but with in school I started playing squash in the winter and Mountain Biking in the spring. It was my first time doing either but I really enjoyed them. It was good to try something different.
Bear Mattress: You played your college soccer at Wake Forest. How did you decide on Wake? Did you have any professional offers to consider at the time?
JH: I committed to Wake Forest my junior year of high school. At the time, I didn’t really have any professional offers. The New York RedBulls U-22 team was interested, but that was pretty much it. I looked at a few Ivy League Schools but when I visited Wake Forrest it actually reminded me of Berkshire in a lot of ways, and that’s really what attracted me the most. The coaches and players were all friendly and it seemed like a positive environment to come into.
Bear Mattress: You left Wake Forest after only one year to pursue a career in Major League Soccer. Do you have any intention of finishing your degree in the future?
JH: Yes - there’s actually a clause built into my contract that assures my ability to return to school in the future. I would love to finish my degree when the time is right.
From College to the Professional Ranks with NYCFC
Bear Mattress: You were selected first overall in the 2016 MLS Superdraft by Chicago and then immediately traded to NYCFC. Going into the season, what were your initial expectations for yourself and your performance? Did you have specific goals in mind?
JH: Going into the season I was pretty unsure of what to expect in terms of my impact on the club, especially with so many quality players on the roster. I did have a goal of winning the Rookie of the Year award but I think my initial injury early on in the season limited my impact a bit. Once I recovered and got back on the field, I think I found my groove a bit and started playing well and I was happy to be considered for the award regardless.
Bear Mattress: Which areas of your game do you think have improved since entering MLS and what specifically are you working on as you look towards next season?
JH: I think my decision making ability is something that I’ve improved a lot, but can still be a lot better. Before I got to MLS I was sort of in attack mode at all times - trying to go towards goal whenever possible. Playing with the caliber of players that the league has it teaches you that you can’t really do that. If you do you'll get burned pretty quick. I’ve got a better understanding of that now, but it was probably the biggest adjustment I had to make initially.
Bear Mattress: How has the transition from college to MLS been in terms of your daily training? Does NYCFC help you at all with nutrition and staying as healthy as possible?
JH: Yeah, even coming from a top college program the adjustment to MLS has been big. With NYCFC we're training for several hours a day on the field and then work on specific exercises to improve strength and conditioning. At the beginning of the season a lot of the training I was doing was for my pelvic injury. The team also brought in a nutritionist at the beginning of the season to give us advice on healthy eating.
Bear Mattress: How important is sleep been to your progression as a player and how have you been sleeping on your Bear Mattress?
JH: Yeah, I've realized more and more as I've gotten a bit older how massive sleep is for my game preparation and overall recovery. I try to get around 8-10 hours a night if I can. I definitely train better when I'm rested and I've been sleeping great on my Bear Mattress so far. So yeah, thanks for that! (laughs)
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Bear Mattress: Soccer has afforded you the ability to travel all over the world. What’s the coolest or craziest place you’ve been as a result?
JH: I think Qatar was probably the wildest place I’ve traveled to thus far. We traveled there and were playing in the desert heat which was crazy. One day they took us out on the sand dunes in Cadillac Escalades. We we’re driving up and down these huge dudes all day which was pretty fun and a bit scary.
Bear Mattress: Finally, now that it’s the offseason do you have any specific travel plans for the holiday season?
JH: Yeah well right now I’m hanging at home and have a friend coming into town to visit. In a couple weeks I’m headed back to England to see some friends and family and from there I’ll head to Spain to visit my grandparents. They live in Alicante now in the Southern part of the country and I always like visiting them whenever I can. Really, now that it's the offseason, I'm looking forward to spending as much time with my family as possible, and of course getting lots of good rest on my Bear Mattress, before getting back into everything prior to next season.