NFL Draft: Harvard’s Shampklin hopes road from California to Cambridge leads to the NFL

Growing up, Harvard running back Aaron Shampklin dreamed of playing Division 1 football for an SEC or Pac-12 school.

Living in California, playing football in the frigid Northeast never even crossed his mind, then life happened.

“Growing up I actually envisioned myself playing at LSU or USC because those are the schools I loved to watch and wanted to be part of,” Shampklin told NEFJ following a very good Pro Day performance at Holy Cross earlier in the week. Shampklin ran for 835 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and should get an opportunity to make an NFL roster.

“When I started getting offers, I was moving towards going Pac-12, but once I got my first Ivy-League offer, after talking to my parents, I thought it would be best to go to Harvard if I got the opportunity. I knew it would be harder to reach my goal of playing in the NFL, but I trusted God would guide me to my goals while still earning arguably the most elite degree in the world. Going cross-country was more difficult my sophomore year because I missed my family a lot, but it was a great decision for me.”

Shampklin’s 37” vertical jump may have been the most impressive thing he did all day at Holy Cross, but he also showed he was a good pass catcher out of the backfield as well (16 receptions, 122 yards last season) when hauling in balls thrown from Brown’s EJ Perry. Anyone who watched Harvard play this year knows Shampklin consistently stood out nearly every game.

What’s crazy is just how good he is at the position, considering he didn’t start taking RB reps until junior year of high school.

“I first realized I could play D1 when I moved up to varsity at the end of my freshman year,” he said. “I was just a scout team member, but at Long Beach Poly, moving up to varsity gave me the competition and confidence that I could compete at the D1 level. In high school I started off as a Corner/DB, I didn’t really start playing RB until the end of my junior year of high school.”

The Pro Day experience is one every kid playing football dreams of growing up. Shampklin had a strong showing, but it was a different feeling and process than he envisioned. 

“It was different,” Shampklin said. “I had a lot less time to warm up than I thought, so I was a little disappointed, but I was pleased with how I ran routes and performed in my drills. I was able to relax and do me during that period, which hopefully turned enough heads.”

Getting an Ivy League education is hard enough, but doing so while chasing a league title in football may seem downright impossible to a lot of people. You can easily make the argument that while Ivy League guys may not be the biggest, strongest or fastest, they’re the most prepared to jump into an NFL playbook on day one because of their ability to study and retain information in a short amount of time.

You think kids playing for Alabama or Georgia are writing papers or cramming for exams the night before a game? 

“Being at Harvard, you don’t really get the outlets to help you balance school and sports like other universities (study halls, exam extensions, etc.). There have been times when teammates and I had papers or exams a day before a game that we had to do on the bus,” explained Shampklin.

“Saying that, I believe me and other Ivy-League athletes have had to adapt to this, causing myself to have a better work ethic which, theoretically, should allow being an NFL athlete come easier than most. I also believe Harvard has prepared me with learning plays and film. As a freshman, I kind of had the playbook thrown at me, causing me to have to catch on to everything quickly and I’m sure the NFL is the same way, but at a higher intensity.”

NFL teams looking for an intelligent, speedy, sure-handed back should shift their focus towards Cambridge, MA if they haven’t already, as Shampklin fits the bill perfectly. 

“I am willing to do anything to help better the team, whether it’s rushing for 100+ yards per game, catching balls, returning kicks, or even making tackles on special teams,” he added. “I am willing to play whatever position necessary to positively contribute to a team so we can strive towards winning a Super Bowl.”