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After four years of being called to step up for Harvard football on Saturdays, Truman Jones ’22 and senior Aidan Borguet were hoping to hear their names called in a different way last month so that they might play football on Sundays instead.
While that wish didn’t come true during the National Football League’s (NFL) draft in Kansas City, their broader goal of playing football on the world’s biggest stage is still alive. As they have in the past, the two former Crimson stars will simply take the road less traveled.
Jones — an Atlanta, Ga. native and defensive end who graduated with a degree in biomedical engineering last December — signed a free agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs the day the draft ended and will compete for a roster spot as the summer goes on.
Meanwhile, Borguet — the engine of Harvard’s offense this past season and a finalist for the Walter Payton Award (the “Heisman of the FCS”) — was invited to multiple NFL teams’ rookie camps and is hoping to sign with a team in need of support in the run game.
Tim Murphy, the Thomas Stephenson Family Head Coach for Harvard Football, pointed to both players’ intangibles as an essential part of their journey to where they are today.
“Their overall character transcended what people thought was the limit on their ability and because of that, they got better and better every year, to the point where now they would fit in on any NFL preseason roster,” Murphy said.
For Jones, as he begins his professional career with the Chiefs, he’ll be able to draw on his experience working his way up a depth chart. After starring in high school for Westminster, where he won state championships in football and lacrosse, Jones was recruited into Murphy’s program as an outside linebacker. After seeing action in just three games as a freshman, Jones moved to defensive end and found immediate success as a sophomore.
Despite being set back in his development by the Covid-19 pandemic and having a down year as a junior in 2021, Jones rediscovered the “prove-yourself” mentality he had in 2019, leaving it all on the field in 2022. Jones recorded 40 tackles, six sacks, and three blocked kicks for the Crimson last season, and continued to display a skill that’s been evident in his character since high school: leadership. After captaining his Westminster squad in 2017, Jones served as the 148th team captain in Harvard football history.
Because he took the fall semester of 2020 off, Jones graduated last December and was able to return to Atlanta after the season to train and be with his family for the draft. However, he still describes that week as a whirlwind: after going undrafted during the day on Saturday, April 29, Jones received the call from the Chiefs that night, and news of his signing made the rounds among NFL scouts the following day.
Within a week, Jones had flown out to Missouri for rookie camp, where he participated in drills and walkthroughs with 70 other rookies. After a brief sojourn back to Atlanta, Jones was back in Kansas City by May 14 to participate in voluntary team workouts, a chance to practice and learn from veterans.
It is hard to envision a better landing spot for an undrafted player than the 2023 Super Bowl champion Chiefs, who boast a coaching staff led by Andy Reid, one of the most well-respected coaches in the league, as well as a defensive line stacked with veteran playmakers like Chris Jones and Danny Shelton. Jones will join a crop of edge rushers looking to fill in the gap left by the departure of Frank Clark, who started 15 games at defensive end for the team last season and had five sacks. In addition to signing Jones, the team spent its first-round pick in the draft on a pass rusher, Felix Anudike-Uzomah of Kansas State, as well as its fifth-round pick on Stephen F. Austin’s BJ Thompson.
“We each have a lot to learn from each other because it’s a big step from collegiate football to professional,” said Jones of his fellow rookie edge rushers. “It’s been great to have those guys by my side. We build off of each other and we’re all going to grow together.”
One luxury that Jones has already enjoyed since becoming a professional is the ability to focus solely on football. As a biomedical engineering concentrator, Jones balanced an intense course load with his responsibilities to the Crimson; he listed time management as one of the biggest lessons he took away from his four years in Cambridge. While medical school will wait for now, his former coaches don’t doubt his ability to excel in the field down the line.
Jones displays “an unbelievably amazing pursuit of excellence in everything he does,” according to Coach Murphy. “You can try to coach that — but you either have that intangible, that character, or you don’t.”
Joining Jones on the 2022 Academic All-America Team was Borguet, whose soft-spoken demeanor belies a powerful rushing style on the field which allowed him to become one of the most accomplished rushers in recent Ivy League memory.
Unlike Jones, Borguet saw significant action as a freshman coming out of Delsea Regional in Franklinville, N.J. The player who came to be known by the nickname “AB” set the record for most rushing yards in the 136th playing of The Game in 2019, scorching Yale for 269 yards and four touchdowns on just 11 carries. Murphy remembers this game as the moment when the coaching staff realized Borguet was special, and special he continued to be: after averaging a prolific 7.1 yards per carry as a freshman and a solid 5.2 yards per carry as a sophomore, Borguet saved his most impressive season for last.
Throughout last season, the Harvard offense lived and died with Borguet: he carried the rock more than 15 times in all 10 games, gaining over 100 yards in seven of them, in which Harvard went 6-1. At the end of the season, his 1182 yards on the ground represented the highest total from a Harvard back since Clifton Dawson ’07 set the single-season record with 1,302 in 2005. Going into the final game of the season against Yale, Borguet was 182 yards off of Dawson’s record, an imposing total but not much more than the 179 yards he had garnered against Dartmouth earlier in the year.
However, Borguet was stymied for only 62 yards as the Crimson fell to the Bulldogs 19-14. Still, after the season, the awards piled in: in addition to First Team All-Ivy and the Walter Payton Award finalist designation, he was the Bluebloods Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the Bushnell Cup.
“He was always working as hard or harder than anybody on the team. He was never satisfied,” said Murphy of Borguet, who added that the running back has “the combination of work ethic, that toughness, that amazing pursuit of finding little ways to get better.”
Now, Borguet is attempting to match the success of Dawson, who signed with the Indianapolis Colts after going undrafted and played 15 games in the NFL for the Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals from 2007-2008. He can also look to more recent members of the Harvard rushing corps who have gone professional: Aaron Shampklin ’21, who started for the Crimson during Borguet’s freshman year, recently signed a futures/reserve contract with the Colts.
Notably, Dawson and Shampklin both faced concerns about their size, as they played at 5’10” for the Crimson, while the average height of an NFL running back is closer to six feet. Borguet, who listed at 5’10” but was tabbed at 5’9” by some draft evaluators, has faced similar headwinds, but he has also demonstrated exceptional strength in other areas. At Harvard’s Pro Day in March, Borguet put up 35 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press; the record at the NFL combine for the position is 32.
If the lens is expanded to every position, Borguet and Jones will look to follow in the footsteps of a cadre of former Harvard standouts who went on to have productive NFL careers, including Ryan Fitzpatrick ’04, Kyle Jusczyk ’13, and Cameron Brate ’14. Fitzpatrick, the former quarterback and 121st captain in team history, and Brate, an undrafted tight end who won the Super Bowl with the Buccaneers in 2021, even played on the same Tampa Bay Buccaneers team from 2017-2018. On October 15, 2017, the two connected for a Harvard-to-Harvard touchdown reception, the first such “Crimson Special” in recorded history.
Though Jones and Borguet won’t ever be able to share a scoring connection by virtue of their positions, it is possible that they could start their careers on the same team. In addition to rookie camp invites from the Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles, Borguet received an invitation from the Chiefs, who have dealt with injuries to running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the past two seasons. Borguet’s rushing style shares some similarities with Isaiah Pacheco’s, who is the Chiefs’ likely starter this coming season and a back who was billed as a tough, physical runner coming out of Rutgers in 2022. Another New Jersey native, Pacheco rose from a seventh-round pick and back-up to become the Chiefs’ starter in the Super Bowl in February, perhaps a sign that the organization might be willing to take more fliers on sleeper running backs in the future.
Whether their NFL careers end up taking off in Kansas City, Miami, or somewhere else, Borguet and Jones will continue to represent the Crimson wherever they go.
“They will represent Harvard well, and I think they’ll find a way to get it done,” Murphy said.
Murphy’s biggest piece of advice for the two burgeoning professionals? Believe in themselves.
“Self belief is no small thing. Sometimes it’s easy to say, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’” said Murphy. “Just stay with it, because we’ve had so many kids that were not highly recruited that have played in the league.”
“I feel reassured that this has been done before,” said Jones. “I’m just trying to do my best to follow in those footsteps and take what is expected of a Harvard student, to be an intelligent football player, and bring that to the NFL.”
— Staff writer Jack Silvers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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