It’s one of the most commonly heard terms in modern sports.
Along with coaches claiming to change a program’s culture or players bragging about the strong chemistry their team has, having an IQ for their sport is almost cliché when top players are discussed.
North Thurston High School’s holding midfielder Jack Harrison took it beyond that during his senior season. His knack for reading games almost sounds like extra sensory perception.
“His soccer IQ is higher than I’ve seen in an 18-year-old,” said Rams’ coach Matt Herrera. “He reads the game at such a level. I can’t count the number of times he’s broken up counterattacks before they can happen. He makes coaching simple.”
Harrison, who is The Olympian’s All-Area boys soccer player of the year for 2019, played defender for an elite club team, Washington Premier, and midfield for North Thurston, giving him multiple insights into game flow.
“I try to get into the other team’s head, see the game from their eyes. I go there and think what I might do in that situation, then move to stop it,” he said. “If you can think that way, you can stop counterattacks faster.”
It’s an asset that allowed the Rams to keep their offensive players deeper downfield toward the opponent’s net, making Harrison an offensive threat, even though because of his position he finished the season with just two goals and seven assists.
Harrison, a three-time All-Area selection, is fine without the glory more goal-scoring might bring.
“I love the physical aspect of the game, I love being involved. I take pride in not losing the ball, pulling the strings, making good passes,” he said. “If I want to brag after a game, I’ll talk about a really strong tackle or winning all my battles for the ball.”
Harrison’s game is his own. His parents hadn’t played soccer. They signed him up for the usual run of kids’ sports.
“I was terrible at T-ball,” he said, laughing. “Basketball wasn’t my thing, either.”
Herrera first saw Harrison at a “captain’s practice” before his freshman season.
“I was excited. I immediately asked the older guys who he was,” Herrera said. “For such a young player, he was making all the right decisions. He was a good, smart passer.
“I knew he’d be good, but I’d be lying if I said I saw right away that he’d been as good as he’s become.”
Along with Harrison’s ability to read the game has come an ability to share his wisdom with teammates.
“His ability to be a leader has grown throughout his four years,” said Herrera. “He leads by example, but he’s also become more vocal, giving direction and correcting mistakes. That’s another way he makes my job a whole lot easier.”
Harrison credits his knack for leadership to the contrast between his heavily-scripted role as a defender in high pressure club competition and a more free-flowing role as a midfielder for the Rams.
“Playing for North Thurston is totally different from club. It pushed me to be an entirely different soccer player,” he said. “Instead of my role being defined, I’m part of the whole team, I need to be a leader. I like it. It really enables me to make a difference.”
Herrera sees it as another example of Harrison taking responsibility.
“Jack came back to high school from a very good Washington Premier program and recognized that he needed to be ‘that guy,’” he said. “Him being named a captain was natural, he realized it was up to him. He’s become more calm and more mature.”
When Harrison missed the final portion of the season with a concussion, it was noticeable. The Rams tied two teams they’d beaten the first time around and were shutout in the first round of the Class 3A West Central/Southwest Bi-District tournament by Prairie, 3-0.
“Earlier in the season, we ran everything through him,” Herrera said.
Though he ended his career on the bench, Harrison has many fond memories of his time in purple and white, particularly his first high school goal. It came in his fourth game, during a routine 5-0 win over Capital.
“It was freshman year, I was super timid,” he said. “It was off a corner kick, my teammate missed a shot, but I got my foot on the rebound and scored.”
Whether Harrison has taken his last shot in structured competition or not may depend on whether Western Washington University has a slot for a walk-on in the fall. Not recruited by the Vikings, Harrison nonetheless decided Western was the best place for him as a student.
“It’s a balance. I had some offers but I was hoping to find a place to play that also had the academics I wanted,” he said. “I didn’t find a place better than Western academically. I might get a chance to play there.”