The Essex Alumni Sports Award

The University of Essex recognises alumni who have achieved excellence in sport through this annual award. Here are the worthy winners


Matt Roberts-Harbour, Philosophy 2003
Essex Alumni Sport Award Winner 2014

A founding member of the Essex Blades American Football team, Matt has made an outstanding contribution to American Football coaching in the UK. In his six years as Head Coach of the Colchester Gladiators American Football Team, Matt has orchestrated two undefeated seasons, two national final appearances, and the 2013 National Championship.

Matt has also worked at developing American Football coaching at a national level, in his role as President of the British American Football Coaching Association. As part of this work Matt has travelled the country, running clinics to develop coaching at newly-founded teams, organising visits from coaches from US college and professional teams, and placing a key emphasis on coaching education by rolling out a comprehensive new structure for UK American Football coaching qualifications.

He was awarded UK American Football Coach of the Year (2009), Essex Coach of the Year (2010), and Coach of the Year at the 2013 Colchester Sports Personality of the Year Awards.

Matt graduated from Essex with a BA in Philosophy in 2003.

Emma Willis, Psychology 2013
Essex Alumni Sports Award Winner 2015

Emma played a key role in the Women’s Football team while studying at Essex, especially during their 2010/11 BUCS South Eastern 1A Championship winning season. After graduating, Emma worked for the Essex County FA, increasing participation in football and improving the game in north east Essex. She helped to create new teams and run events for girls and children with disabilities to increase opportunities for under-represented groups.

In September 2014, Emma volunteered on a charity project in Rio de Janeiro, coaching in the favelas and teaching children the positive message of sport.

Emma graduated from Essex with a BSc in Psychology in 2013.


Russell Sheldon, Information Business Systems Technology 1995
Essex Alumni Sports Award Winner 2016

For the last seven years, Russell has coached youth teams at Colchester RFC and before this coached school rugby in Ipswich and the Eastern Counties.

Russell is also one of the development pathway (EPDG) coaches for Northampton Saints, where he supports aspiring young rugby players to achieve their goals of becoming professional sportsmen. In 2015, he travelled in this role to India, where he spent time coaching rugby to orphans (pictured)

Russell graduated from Essex with a BSc in Information Business Systems Technology in 1995.


Adeseye Ogunlewe, Law and Politics 2016
Essex Alumni Sports Award Winner 2017

Immediately after graduating Adeseye travelled to Brazil for the Rio 2016 Olympics to represent Nigeria in the 100m. His qualifying time of 10.12 seconds in the Nigerian 100m trials was a personal best, giving him the title of Nigeria’s fastest man.

Adeseye began to establish an athletics career when he arrived at Essex. Whilst competing in the British Universities and Colleges Sports (BUCS) championships his potential was spotted by the University’s Human Performance Unit in the department of Sports Science. With the help of the performance unit, he knocked 0.7 seconds off his time. Adeseye is dedicated to his training now that his studies are over. The University is very proud of his success and after graduating he continues to be a role model for sporting achievement at Essex - his poster is at the entrance to the University sports centre as an inspiration to current students.

Adeseye graduated from Essex with an LLB in Law and Politics in 2016.

Sarah Welsh, Chemistry 1988
Essex Alumni Sports Award Winner 2018

Sarah took on her first triathlon after the loss of a friend. She wanted a new challenge, and one that was big enough to fail. In 2016, Sarah completed Triathlon X in the Lake District, followed by Ironman Wales (renowned as one of the toughest Ironman courses in the world) - where she finished fourth in her age group. Since, Sarah has competed in the Norwegian equivalent, and returned to the Lake District in June 2018 for her third Triathlon X in which she finished third female. 

Sarah's support team is made up of her husband Michael, and fellow alumna Zoe. She says, "we've had the most amazing time together in some of the world's most beautiful places. I cannot thank them enough. The challenge once big enough to fail has become "just another day in the office". As I find myself explaining rather a lot these days, "normal" changes." 

Sarah graduated from Essex with a BSc in Chemistry in 1988.


Jack Burrell, LLB Law 2005
Essex Alumni Sports Award Winner 2019

Jack started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in 2011 after having to give up running due to knee damage. He quickly developed a love for the sport and trained relentlessly, progressing to brown belt and racking up over 200 competition matches at both adult and masters level.

He has won multiple gold medals at English and British championships, as well as two silver medals at the European Championships, which took place in Lisbon in 2016. He is regarded as one of the top masters competitors in the country.

Jack has been keen to share and pass on his knowledge and experience, and is involved with growing the sport at University level; he is the head referee for the UK Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Association University League, which has been running inter-university competitions twice a year since 2016. He also coaches at London Metropolitan University where he works, as well as running beginner’s sessions at his local club.