Three years ago Jhalen Bien-Aime was among a group of Boston Latin freshman football players who were brought up to practice and dress with the varsity for the annual Thanksgiving rivalry game against Boston English at Harvard Stadium — the nation's longest continuous high school football rivalry game.
Bien-Aime didn’t step foot onto the turf at Harvard Stadium for that 27-16 victory against English, but he was more than on his coaches' radar by that point of the season.
“He caught people’s eye, he was running hard like he wanted to prove something, he surprised a lot of the older kids, he’s just improved since then,” Boston Latin coach John McDonough said. “We were pretty certain we had potential for pretty good back then. The six or seven practice he had with the varsity he did an excellent job.”
The game also left an impression on Bien-Aime, who rushed for three touchdowns on 148 yards in a 50-0 victory against English last year, the Wolfpack’s 14th straight victory against the Blue & Blue.
“Being so young, I had never known how serious the rivalry was as a seventh and eighth grader,” he recalled three days before English and Latin were set to meet for the 126th time at 10 a.m. Thursday morning.
“I saw how those seniors took it serious, how big the crowd was at that game. Ever since then it clicked how serious that rivalry is. People don’t take it lightly.”
Last year’s performance also caught the eye of English coach Chris Boswell.
“He’s a good back, maybe even a great back,” Boswell said. “He should play at the next level. I wish him all the best. He’s fast, he can catch, he can run and he’s experienced.”
So far this year, Bien-Aime has rushed for more than 1,000 yards and has scored 16 touchdowns.
Despite that impressive resume, the Wolfpack (1-9) haven’t had much success on the field this year. A 38-0 victory against Weston on Nov. 9 was their only victory of the season, and Bien-Aime said the shot in the arm was a much needed boost going into the game against English (3-7).
“I feel like we are a lot more comfortable,” he said. “It was definitely a huge boost in our confidence. That was the main thing, guys got confident and now we know we can win football games. It’s definitely big.”
But that’s not to say that the season on the whole hasn’t been frustrating for Bien-Aime. He said the most frustrating part of this season has been the fact that much of their woes have come off self-inflicted wounds.
“I’d be lying if said it wasn’t, it’s definitely frustrating,” he said. “But at end of the day I’m playing football and I’m blessed to be able to do that and have that opportunity. Our record is definitely frustrating but at the end of the day I’m doing what I love to do and getting better at it.”
Before he plays college football, however, Bien-Aime, feels that he needs a year of prep school to get ever better at football. And then, he said, he hopes to play at the Division 1 level.
“I’m pretty much sold on going prep,” he said. “I’m not sure where I’ll go but I think that will be the best thing for me is a post-grad year.”
In the meantime, he’ll have to settle for playing at Harvard Stadium on Thanksgiving morning.
“It was amazing being in that stadium, I’d never been in a stadium so big,” he said of suiting up for the English-Latin game as a freshman. “Just the atmosphere, it’s the closest thing you can get to a college atmosphere. The crowd was huge, the stadium was huge.
“Just before the game starts you look around and you’re kind of amazed.”
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