Saint Mary's senior Clifton Harrison is one of the last remaining undergraduates who played on the college's football team. Like his fellow players, Harrison was disappointed and angry when Saint Mary's discontinued its football program in 2004. But unlike many of the team members, Harrison chose to stay at Saint Mary's and take advantage of the college's offer to honor his scholarship.
"I'm happy with my decision," said Harrison. "It was definitely a struggle for me to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn't be playing football anymore. Once my initial emotions subsided, I knew what I had to do. I knew that my education came first."
The former linebacker now has a new goal â€“ he wants to counsel and mentor student-athletes transitioning from high school to college. Harrison, a communications major, said he learned to value his academic programs more after his time was no longer devoted to football.
"I want to encourage players to take their college experience seriously," he said. "You tend to dismiss it when you're playing sports."
Education has been a priority for Harrison since he was a student at Oakland Technical High School. He wanted to attend Saint Mary's for its academics before he was ever recruited by the football coach.
"It stems from my parents and everyone instilling in me since I was young that education comes first," said Harrison, whose father attended Saint Mary's paralegal program in the â€˜80s. "Sports was something I played and loved, but it was a means to an end."
Giving up football is not all that has changed for Harrison. Now a husband and father of a 2-year-old girl, Harrison works full-time as a records assistant in the legal department at Novartis in Emeryville while also maintaining a full course load. During a one-year leave of absence when his daughter was born, Harrison juggled three jobs. That experience helped him appreciate his studies even more.
"I realized how much opportunity Saint Mary's was giving me when I came back," he said. "It was a fresh start to focus on my academics and my home life."
Office of College Communications