The Harvard Football Bond: Langston Ward

Photo courtesy of Gil Talbot
Photo courtesy of Gil Talbot

By Scott Sudikoff

For Harvard senior defensive lineman Langston Ward, growing up in a house full of Green Bay Packers memorabilia was the genesis for his life in the game of football.

"My dad was the biggest Packers fan I know," Ward said. "He was from Green Bay, and as far as I can remember I've been a Packers fan, and that was my first introduction to football."

Ward was born in Lansing, Michigan and lived there for four years before moving to Tarrytown, New York and living there until the age of 12.  Even with the early introduction to the game from his father Michael, Langston did not begin playing until the fifth grade.

Michael, who had played college football, and then went on to be a college coach at Massachusetts, Texas-El Paso, and Missouri, passed away when Langston was in the fifth grade.

"My dad only actually got to see me play one year of football," Ward explained. "But I had the motivation to play from his love of the game."

After his father's death, Ward moved to Spokane, Washington with his mother, Tracy, who played basketball at the University of Missouri and currently serves as an associate commissioner for the BIG EAST Conference.

"My mom didn't want to push me into anything," Ward said of his early days in Spokane. "She just wanted to make sure I was doing something, but I did try basketball at her request."

"I was very intentional about nurturing Langston's interests, whether if it was cello, poetry or Tae Kwon Do," said Ward's mother Tracy. "I believe it truly made him appreciate football more and value the hard work associated with excelling at multiple things.

"I know in my heart his dad has never stopped smiling down on Langston and he has had the best view from heaven for every game," Tracy added.

After a brief run with the game of basketball, Langston discovered that football was his calling.

"I didn't think there was enough contact [in basketball], and I didn't enjoy it as much," Ward described. "My mom was disappointed, but she's grown to love football."

As is the case with many kids who move around the country, sports are a way to help ease the troubles of the transition.

"One of my first memories in Spokane is waiting in line for my football pads, and meeting some of what would become my best friends in that line."

Outside of his parents, Ward credits his Mead High School defensive line coach, Dave Fenton, as one of his football influences.

"I consider him a member of my family," said Ward. "He came over for Thanksgiving dinner, and when I didn't play a sport in the winter, I ended up training with him."

Spending his early years in Michigan, and with the bulk of the Ward family being in the Midwest, Langston took advantage to explore his college football options. 

"I would visit family and my grandpa would drive me around to different camps," Ward explained. "That way, I got to see a ton of different schools. One day, out of the blue, I got a call from Harvard and the rest was history. 

Ward had compiled a highlight tape and sent it to Harvard, but had no expectations of ever hearing from the Crimson.

"I actually had no idea they were looking at it before they called me, but I remember jokingly telling myself during my freshman year [of high school] when I received a 'B' in math class, I joked to myself 'I guess I'm never going to Harvard.'"

Harvard eventually became the first school to offer Ward a chance to play. He recalled contemplating his college decision.

"I was talking to a coach from a certain school, and the coach asked me 'Don't you want to play real Division I football? You can get an education anywhere.' I immediately knew that place wasn't for me. Harvard is the best opportunity I could have received and I needed to take advantage of it."

Another driving force behind Ward's decision to come to Cambridge was Tim Murphy, the Thomas Stephenson Family Head Coach for Harvard Football.

"The stability [at Harvard] was a big part of the decision," said Ward. "I learned that Coach Murphy had a proven record and was a man of integrity.
"I got to meet him face to face and have him tell me he's going to be with this team throughout my time on campus, so that was huge for my decision process, that I could trust him and the coaching staff," Ward added.
"On and off the field, Langston has demonstrated that he is someone we can always depend on," said Murphy. "And for that he is admired and respected on and off the field."
Once on campus as an underclassman at Harvard, Ward looked to the leaders and one of those influences was former Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, Zack Hodges '15.

"He really took an interest in not just me, but all of the young guys," Ward said of Hodges. "With the adversity he faced when he came to Harvard, he wanted to translate that into helping the guys below him.

"It's a huge family at Harvard football, and we use that word [family] a lot, but we don't use it lightly," Ward continued. "It's a real connection and we're working and struggling every day together to build something."

Ward is part of a class that has won three consecutive Ivy League championships and has only suffered defeat twice. How do they continue to stay focused game after game?

"I think it's all about the culture that comes from the top, the coaches and the leadership," Ward explained. "They know that every week you have to click the restart button.

"That cultures seeps down into every aspect of our program, and nothing should be taken for granted on the field."

The differences between Ivy League football and the rest of college football are well documented, but Ward sums up the importance of the Ivy League well to anyone who may question the league.

"I think to question the Ivy League is to question our love for the game and why we're playing it," Ward said sternly. "The historic significance of each team and each matchup just adds to the pressure of the fourth quarter.

"We might not have the pomp and circumstance of the bigger schools, but it's about what's in the locker room and on the field."

Langston's pitch to any future Harvard football hopeful:

"You will play with the most special group of people you can imagine, and you can't find another locker room like a Harvard locker room."