By JORDAN IKEDA
Hot dogs and steaks are being grilled in backyards. Air conditioning units are being pushed to their limits. And graduation caps have all fallen back down to earth.
Summer is officially here.
Typically, for college students, summer marks returning home for three months, working or interning, and indulging in a mix of R&R and play on the side.
For a select group of Harvard University athletes, summertime involves not going home. It means finding a job and a living situation in Boston. It means waking up at 5 a.m. and training for three hours—five days a week. It means going to work after training and working eight-hour shifts, then eating dinner and getting prepped to do it all over again the next day.
“We called ourselves the Summer Dogs,” said Daniel Minamide, a key member of Harvard football the past four years and recent graduate who participated in a special program the last two summers in order to get his game in tip-top shape.
“To be an elite player at any level, you have to get rid of the mindset that you are just playing a game. It’s so much more than that. It’s like falling in love—with the weight room, with practice, with how you eat. It’s got to be an obsession. And that’s what it became.”
That obsession resulted in an undefeated Ivy League campaign as well as a second championship ring to close out his college career. Minamide’s first came his freshman season, though he readily admits he was wholly unprepared for the level of commitment football would require of him to not just win, but find lasting success.
“Freshman year was a very humbling experience,” Minamide said. “But it was one I needed to go through. One I needed because I was too cocky. I felt like I could compete with anyone when in reality, I had no idea what I was doing.”
A big fish in a small pond usually doesn’t when dropped into a larger pool.
The Escondido native was a star quarterback at San Pasqual High School and named San Diego Valley League Offensive Player of the Year while maintaining a 4.4 GPA his senior season. While football was something he enjoyed doing, it wasn’t until he started getting calls from universities that he realized he could use the sport to further his academic career.
Then Harvard called.
“Once Harvard contacted me, I set my goal for Harvard,” Minamide said. “I was enamored by the name. To be affiliated with Harvard, I knew, would give me so many opportunities in the future.”
What made his heart thereafter bleed Crimson was the day football head coach Tim Murphy showed up at his high school to meet and greet him personally.
“He was in a suit and he stood up and shook my hand, looked me right in the eye and he said, ‘Dan Minamide, we’d love for you to come play football for us,’” Minamide recalled of that fateful meeting. “To this day, he’s still one of the people I respect most in this world.”
That respect played out in the adjustments Minamide made for the betterment of the team. Upon arriving, he shifted from being an offense-only player to a strictly defensive player by assuming the corner back position. He then bounced between safety and corner his sophomore and junior years before settling in as the team’s starting safety this past season.
“It was frustrating at times, and rewarding at others, but ultimately, playing corner gave me a better understanding,” he said. “I knew not only everything about safety—the reads, the routes, etc.—but I understood what a corner went through and saw. Going into this year I had a very complete understanding of the defense.”
The results speak for themselves. Minamide finished with 37 tackles and two end-zone interceptions for a Crimson defense that led the Ivy League in defensive scoring, rush defense, and pass defense efficiency, and was second in total defense. The Crimson went on to post a 9-1 overall record, while cruising through the Ivy League undefeated.
And it all was because of a commitment to work hard during his summer. Sure, he found moments of time to have fun. Like, for instance, playing Super Smash Brothers with his friend Ryan Birkhead, who would bring along his roommate every once in a while—a guy you might have heard of — Jeremy Lin.
But in between the pockets of fun was developing a system of staying organized with school, work and football. It was going all-out in training. It was eating right and making sure to get rest. It was studying film and hitting the books.
This summer is already a bit different for Minamide, who graduated from Harvard in May with a sociology degree. After being recruited by Abercrombie & Fitch, he has begun a career in advertising and marketing at the A&F home office in Columbus, Ohio.
“I’m working in their leadership development program,” Minamide said. “Hopefully it’s a fast track up to management.”
With four years of growth at Harvard, success moving forward is without doubt something he’ll be able to easily tackle.