Aaron Amok: Aaron Shampklin, Male Breakout Athlete of the Year
Throughout the offseason, questions were posed to Crimson coach Tim Murphy about the 2018 team’s abilities with an entirely new linebacking core, about who would win quarterback spot, but never the who would be taking that quarterback’s gives. Then 2018 came and it wasn’t Booker in the backfield. Instead, with the afternoon sun glinting off the helmets in Harvard Stadium in its inaugural matchup against a competent San Diego team, number 20 assumed the position to the right of sophomore quarterback Jake Smith.
Sophomore running back Aaron Shampklin had seen action in his freshman season, but had been virtually ignored by the media in favor of his then-junior counterpart, Booker. In 2017, Shampklin sprinted for 363 yards and three touchdowns, enough to average 4.5 yards per give.
Against San Diego, the Crimson went first to the air with Smith missing senior wideout Adam Scott. The next play went to Shampklin, who took the give on a career-long, 64-yard chase across the better part of the field for a touchdown. San Diego was highly touted entering the match, which Shampklin turned into a track meet. In the first quarter alone, the sophomore touched the ball twice more. Each time, he scored, matching his three-career touchdowns from 2017 in less than 15 minutes of play.
By the conclusion of the tilt, Shampklin boasted four scores and 178 yards to his name, the beginning of a year which would see consistent success in the Harvard backfield, essential to the team's overall success. In one game, he was already the topic of conversation amongst Ivy League opponents.
“I don’t know if you guys watched last week but [Shampklin] ran for 178 yards and four touchdowns,” Brown coach Phil Estes said. “He was running like he was running through butter against San Diego.”
It’s the nature of Shampklin’s position in the Crimson offense that makes his success all the more impressive. The sophomore was not so much the starting running back as one of a four-part group which consistently wreaked havoc on the defenses of the Ivy League.
In additional to Shampklin and Booker — who re-entered the fray several games into the season after nursing an injury — sophomores Devin Darrington and B.J. Watson also saw significant action in the backfield. The trio of sophomores, dubbed a three-headed monster, rotated in and out of play amongst each other.
In the inaugural San Diego match, Darrington managed 48 yards and a touchdown despite Shampklin’s prior success during the same match. After that game, Murphy spoke on the duo.
“We call [Darrington and Shampklin] thunderbolt and lightfoot,” Murphy said.
Thunderbolt for Darrington’s habit of borrowing over defenders and lightfoot for Shampklin’s proclivity for avoiding them altogether. The duo shared more than success in the 2018 season; they were roommates in Adams House.
“Teams have to game-plan for both of us,” Shampklin said of he and his roommate. “And then we also have a lot of other great running backs in the backfield that you guys haven’t even seen yet, so once they come out there, teams are really going to have to game-plan against that.”
Despite shared time with three other backs, Shampklin rose quickly to the top of the league. By the conclusion of the season, the sophomore led in total rushing yards — and it wasn’t even close. Tallying 1,053 yards, Shampklin eclipsed the next closest runner, Karekin Brooks of Penn, by 155 yards. The Harvard sophomore also led the league in average rushing yards per game with 105.3 at the conclusion of the 2018 campaign.
When the offensive and defensive Ivy League honors were announced in November, 27 student-athletes topped the list in the first-team spots — 20 seniors, six juniors, and a single sophomore. There was little surprise that the second-year was the Crimson back.
In addition to ebbing competence on the field, another personality trait of Shampklin’s shines through in the post-game press conferences: humility.
In Harvard’s 24-28 loss to Cornell in the middle of the season, Shampklin was perhaps the only thing that went right. The sophomore tallied a career-best 191 yards on 27 carries. If one had, by chance, fallen asleep in their seat, missing the contest but making the press conference, they would be excused for thinking the game had gone poorly for the sophomore. He spoke only briefly during the ensuing interviews.
“We just have to think about coming out a little better, doing a little better myself running the ball, making some people miss this week so [we can] put some more points on the board,” Shampklin said.
No one in the Ivy League could meet the standard Shampklin set for himself and do better. None even came close.
— Staff writer Cade Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.