KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There wasn’t much doubt when it came to Chiefs rookie outside linebacker Sage Harold’s athletic talent.
Harold starred at wide receiver and defensive end at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach, Va., and he burst on the scene his senior season at James Madison University with 13 ½ sacks to land on the Chiefs’ radar.
But while the sacks offered proof he could produce on the field, two experiences forged Harold’s inner drive and propelled his path to the NFL.
Harold attended Fork Union Military Academy after graduating from Ocean Lakes, and he learned about having discipline to stay hungry.
“When I went to Fork Union Military Academy, it was a humbling experience,” Harold said. “I felt like I could’ve gone to a higher level of football going into college, and that didn’t happen for me. It just drove me.”
While the time at Fork Union allowed Harold to focus on goals, the death of his brother, Forrest, in 2010 provided inspiration.
“When my brother passed, that put everything in perspective, I’m going to do this for him,” Harold said. “And so far I haven’t failed him yet.”
Harold’s determination and work ethic as a young college freshman didn’t fly under the radar, and he quickly caught the eye of former Philadelphia Eagles and Chiefs linebacker Akeem Jordan.
Jordan, an alumnus of James Madison, works out on campus during the offseason. And the eighth-year pro said during a telephone interview he noticed there was something unique about Harold when compared to others.
“The maturity level was different,” Jordan said. “He was a freshman and sophomore, I mean, the maturity was there already. Even though he was young, he just had the willingness to work and try to get better each and every day.”
Harold said he was well-aware of Jordan’s presence in the training facility.
And he used the opportunity to observe and learn from the former James Madison star what it takes to make it to the next level.
“Watching him work out, I was like, man, if I can keep up with a guy that’s there,” Harold said, “and just keeping a close eye and picking up different things from the guys that made it, and watching Akeem work hard, it was like he was working to get in even though he was there. That definitely kept my mind right there.”
Harold had to patiently wait for his breakout senior campaign, but his competitive desire never wavered.
He took full advantage of his final year at James Madison to post the conference-leading 13 ½ sacks, 73 tackles (53 solo), six forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and nine quarterback hurries, totals that garnered Harold a first-team All-CAA selection in 2014.
To put the production in perspective, Harold totaled 44 tackles (24 solo) and 12 sacks combined the previous three seasons.
Harold went undrafted, but the Chiefs thought enough of the former Duke to extend a free-agent contract offer.
“I thought he was a good player, definitely worthy of coming in and having an opportunity,” coach Andy Reid said. “We will see how he does.”
Harold got a taste of the NFL life during the recent Chiefs rookie minicamp, but his goal of securing a spot on the 53-man roster won’t be easy.
The Chiefs, of course, are crowded at the outside linebacker position with All-Pro Justin Houston, four-time Pro Bowler Tamba Hali, former first-round pick Dee Ford, Josh Martin, Frank Zombo, Dezman Moses and Harold.
But the logjam didn’t deter Harold from choosing Kansas City after discussing the scenario with his agent.
“There were four teams that contacted me and wanted to get me as a priority free agent,” he said. “I just went with the best fit.”
Jordan believes what he personally knows of Harold should assist in keeping the rookie linebacker focused on the upcoming competition for a roster spot.
“I think just his willingness to work and his love for the game,” Jordan said, “his passion for the game, is going to keep him going.”
In the meantime, there are additional reference points outside of Harold’s personal experiences to provide fuel during the quest to stick with the Chiefs. And they are close to Harold’s heart considering the ties to James Madison.
The 24-year-old Harold can study the path of notable James Madison alumni, such as Jordan, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2007 with Reid in Philadelphia. He can also look to Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats and Arizona Cardinals guard Earl Watford, among others, as examples of hard work.
And as Harold fully understands from what he has learned over the years and from those who paved the way, maintaining focus and determination will go a long way.
“The guys that are in right now, so far, they’re all do going well from what I can tell, from I can see,” Harold said. “I could tell by the way they worked, their attitude towards football, they just wanted it. That’s just something I’m going to follow. I want it, I’m hungry and I’m here.”
Herbie Teope is the lead beat writer and reporter for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: