By Scott Sudikoff
Like many Harvard student-athletes, the decision to come to Cambridge was an opportunity that senior wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley could not pass up. Now, for the past four years he has become one of the most prolific players not only in the Ivy League, but in the country.
Entering his senior season on campus, Shelton-Mosley is coming off a junior campaign that saw him earn STATS FCS First Team All-America and All-Ivy League first team accolades, as well as being the top punt returner in FCS-level college football.
The economics major from Sacramento, Calif. has a very clear vision of his first football-related memory.
"When I was seven years old, my dad signed me up," said Shelton-Mosley. "I remember my first touchdown, I high-stepped. That was my first memory of football."
That touchdown was the first of many in the football life of Shelton-Mosley, whose father, Anthony, played collegiately at Fresno State and then in the NFL with the Chicago Bears.
"Football was passed down in the regard," explained Shelton-Mosley. "He trained me from about eighth grade to my senior year (of high school) and still sometimes now."
We hear often that the game of football breeds a brotherhood with the people you play with and creates a family-like atmosphere. This has been part of the draw for Justice.
"The motivation to continue playing is the sport itself," said Shelton-Mosley. "The teamwork aspect of it, the intensity, the pressure moments, the relationships."
Justice still involved himself in other sports while growing up, like basketball and track. In high school at Capital Christian, he was a four-year letter-winner on the hoops team and earned a pair with the track team.
"I've always been a basketball guy," Shelton-Mosley explained. "Football separated itself from basketball with the environment, and I think I've just always been naturally better at football."
After a couple of years of high school football, Shelton-Mosley began to realize that his future could be very bright, when he received one of many college offers.
"When I got my first offer from UC Davis, that was during the summer going into my junior," said Shelton-Mosley. "I was the first person they offered in that entire class, and from that moment on I thought 'maybe I am pretty good at this!'"
Shelton-Mosley kept his options open as his junior season in high school started, and that season he was named All-League MVP for his production at wide receiver. Before this, Justice had made a list of some of the best academic schools in the nation and made it a point to get offered by most of them.
After a little bit of time, Harvard would come calling.
"Coach (Jon) Poppe reached out to me and showed a lot of interest," Shelton-Mosley recalls. "Then they called me and offered me while I was refereeing a basketball game."
Just a few minutes later, Shelton-Mosley also heard from Yale, as well as also receiving an offer from Northwestern. Justice had many great options on the table.
When it came to decide on which school to attend, Shelton-Mosley sought out the advice of a former NFL running back, Maurice Jones-Drew. The former Jacksonville Jaguar was part of a 7-on-7 football tournament being played in Los Angeles that Shelton-Mosley was going to participate in, and Justice took the initiative.
"If you're good, you're good," Shelton-Mosley recalls Jones-Drew saying. "If you want to play in the NFL, you can. Harvard is a once in a lifetime opportunity."
With those words and the "academics first" mindset of his parents, Shelton-Mosley chose Cambridge as his football home for four years instead of taking offers to play in the ACC or the Big Ten.
When Shelton-Mosley arrived on campus and to practice, he was in an unfamiliar situation.
"The first four or five weeks of practice I was on the scout team," said Shelton-Mosley. "I had never been on scout, but I put my head down and was patient and there was always going to be an opportunity."
He did end up seeing the field in his first few games of the year, including scoring a touchdown in his first game, but it was the midway point of the season when an injury to a teammate gave him the opportunity to take a starting role.
It was the preparation in practice leading up to that that got Justice ready for a bigger role, and something that hasn't gone unnoticed by his coaching staff.
"Justice, as much as anyone, is our leader on offense," said Tim Murphy, the Thomas Stephenson Family Head Coach for Harvard Football. "He backs it up with his work ethic and play-making ability that can break a game open on offense or special teams."
Being a part of the Harvard program is a special thing, and Shelton-Mosley fully realizes how it all comes together.
"Start with the alumni," said Shelton-Mosley. "How much they pour into the program after they're gone, they obviously care about us and it's motivating. On the personal side you want to get to that position to give back and on the athletic side you want do well to reward that faith."
As Shelton-Mosley plays through his senior season, he has one fond memory that he will take with him forever, and another that hasn't technically occurred yet.
"My freshman year Yale game, I'll forever remember that," said Shelton-Mosley. "That was the first time my parents got to watch me in person and my whole family came. There is nothing like having family around."
The other event that's upcoming, is graduation.
"Graduation - I think about that every single day," Shelton-Mosley explained. "Wow! I'm going to be a Harvard graduate, that's something you dream of."
Shelton-Mosley also has tremendous advice for anyone thinking about coming to don the crimson in Cambridge.
"Reach out to five people, a student, a faculty member, a football player, another athlete, and someone from the Cambridge area," explained Shelton-Mosley. "You'll get five perspectives that are really unique and hearing from those five people will make you want to go here."