Former Deac, Jack Harrison, scores in EPL

Former Deac, Jack Harrison, scores in EPL

It’s Aug. 30, 2015, and Jack Harrison weaves through Florida International University defenders before powering a low shot past a helpless keeper, sealing a comeback win for the Demon Deacons. Five years later, Harrison powers past two defenders in similar fashion, before expertly placing the ball in the bottom corner. The difference? He’d just done it against the recently crowned Premier League champions, Liverpool.

Flicking the ball past Trent Alexander-Arnold, reigning Professional Football Association’s Young Player of the Year, before nutmegging England international Joe Gomez and placing the ball past Brazil starter Allison would be impressive enough. The fact that it was for Leeds United’s first Premier League goal since 2004, however, makes the feat all the more spectacular.

Harrison’s goal and performance shot him into the Premier League starlight, but for the Deacon faithful that regularly cram into Spry Stadium or cheer from Alumni Hill, the goal was more of the same from the player who mesmerized thousands during his one year at Wake Forest.

Born in Stoke-on-Trent, England, on Nov. 20, 1996, Jack Harrison’s path to the Premier League has been anything but conventional. It began as many English talents do, playing a year in Liverpool’s academy before gaining a coveted spot in the legendary academy of Manchester United, where legends such as David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Bobby Charlton and Paul Scholes began their illustrious careers. Seven years into his United academy career, at the ripe-old-age of 14, Harrison and his mother made the decision that would define the rest of his career. 

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Harrison moved to the United States, enrolling at the Massachusetts boarding school Berkshire on a scholarship where he quickly acclimatized to American soccer and captured the Gatorade Boys National Soccer Player of the Year in his senior year after earning the Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year the previous season.

In his only year at Wake Forest, Harrison started all 22 games in a 17-3-2 season that ended with a 2-1 loss in the Elite Eight to the eventual champions, Stanford. Scoring eight goals and recording 11 assists, Harrison set the single season Wake Forest freshman points record with 27 and captured both the ACC Freshman and Offensive Player of the year awards. Harrison ended the season being named a NSCAA First Team All-American and a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, college soccer’s Heisman. 

Following the loss to Stanford, Harrison declared for the draft and became Wake Forest’s second ever first-overall pick after Tim Duncan was selected no. 1 in the 1997 NBA Draft. After initially being drafted by the Chicago Fire, Harrison was traded to New York City FC before the 2016 season. During his two years in the MLS, Harrison started 50 matches and played alongside legends of the game such as Frank Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo. 

Harrison’s performances caught the eye of NYCFC’s owners, the Dubai financed City Football Group, whose prized asset is Manchester City. City acquired Harrison in the 2018 January transfer window, loaning him out to a second division English soccer team, Middlesbrough F.C. 

After struggling for opportunities at Middlesbrough, registering just 53 league minutes, Harrison was loaned out to another team in the same division, Leeds United, for what would become the first of three successive loan spells. Playing for the eccentric yet widely respected Marcelo Bielsa, Harrison was frequently deployed on the left-side of a midfield that brought Leeds painstakingly close to Premier League promotion at the end of 2019. 

City again loaned Harrison to Leeds for the 2019-20 season, where Harrison became an integral part of Bielsa’s high pressing system, playing in 91.6% of Leeds’s league minutes. En route, the club captured the Championship title and secured an automatic promotion to the Premier League next season.

So, on Saturday, Sep. 12, Harrison took the field as the first Deacon to ever play in the Premier League against a most formidable opponent in 2020 Premier League champions, Liverpool. As Harrison expertly cushioned a long ball before embarking on his fateful run, the bricks of Spry replaced by the towering canopies of Anfield, the player born in England and trained in America cemented his rise to the top. 

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