Cheng Ho deserves better than this.
After coming to the United States not knowing English, let alone football, he helped Harvard to back-to-back Ivy League titles in 2007 and 2008. With all the odds he’s already overcome, the senior running back deserves better than to watch his career end with a lisfranc (mid-foot) sprain suffered last week during practice.
But true to form, Cheng Ho refuses to say goodbye to the team and the sport that have meant so much to him. He comes to practice and meetings early every day, gets fully dressed for every practice and does everything he can to rehab his foot. If he is to spend the last three games of his college career on the sideline, he will not be sulking in a corner. He will wear his heart on his sleeve, just as he has done throughout his career.
“Cheng Ho has to be hands down the most influential vocal leader on the team,” junior receiver Marco Iannuzzi says. “Everyone knows it. If you’ve seen him on the sideline, he gets jacked up, and he gets everyone around him jacked up.”
Ho learned to play with emotion as a nine-year-old basketball player in Taiwan, putting in two-a-days year round for three-straight years.
“If it wasn’t because of [my basketball coach], I probably wouldn’t be able to play a sport at this level,” Ho says. “There would be drills where we would do suicides—conditioning drills—and he wanted people to scream as loud as they could, [to have] the mentality of a warrior. I kind of enjoyed that.”
Ho’s warrior mentality has been evident throughout his Harvard career. As a freshman, he managed to make a name for himself playing behind then Ivy League all-time leading rusher Clifton Dawson ’07.
“Initially when coming in [as a freshman], I was willing to do anything to get on the playing field no matter what,” Ho says. “Having a guy like Clifton right in front of me was just a tremendous experience.”
The freshman wasn’t shy about seeking out Dawson’s advice, something he continues to do to this day.
“He’s extremely coachable, that’s one of his best characteristics,” Dawson says. “It was a pleasure not only playing with him but helping him after my career was done to become the outstanding player he is today.”
The year after Dawson graduated, Ho came into his own. As a sophomore, he teamed with then junior Chris Pizzotti ’09 to lead the team to an undefeated league record and the Ivy Title.
“I wanted to make up for the offense that Clifton had been able to produce,” Ho recalls. “I was very very hungry to do well; fortunately we have a great offensive line for me to do that.”
No one outside the team expected much from the Crimson. Dawson had graduated, quarterback Liam O’Hagan was hurt, and Yale was rumored to have an unstoppable team.
But Ho and Pizzotti emerged as marquee players and built momentum throughout the season, while the heralded Bulldogs were beating their opponents by decreasing margins. On Nov. 17, 2007, Harvard defeated Yale, 37-6, and Ho led the team in rushing with 63 yards.
“It’s just hard to describe,” Ho says. “Afterward it’s kind of an emotional moment, obviously it was very fulfilling at the same time.”