Archive for Thursday, March 13, 2008

Juco wideout quickly got up to speed

March 13, 2008

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KU football starts spring practice

The KU football team started spring practice on Wednesday. Enlarge video

Hawking policies in a shirt and tie just wasn't going to cut it for Rod Harris. He knew that in his first days at Blinn (Texas) Community College.

"I came in and ran like a 4.71 (-second 40-yard dash), and the receivers coach was like 'That's gonna get you selling insurance,'" Harris recalled. "I ended up making the team, and by the end of spring football, I was starting. And it was just a blessing. Ever since then, I just remember that: Don't get cocky and stay humble and you can do whatever."

Of course, going from walk-on hopeful to starter to surging Div. I recruit didn't happen overnight. But it happened in just one year at the junior-college level - an against-the-grain path to Kansas University's football team.

"His physical appearance improved drastically," said Blinn coach Brad Franchione, who offered a walk-on opportunity after Harris took a year off upon graduating from Bryan (Texas) High in 2006 to figure out his life. "I'd say he improved his body composition and probably lost a little bit of the fat that prevented him from looking good. : It had a lot to do with his speed improvement."

The fact that Harris did all of that in one year at Blinn - got himself down to a sleek-yet-defined 190 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame and sliced roughly two-tenths of a second off his 40-time - made him an attractive option for the KU coaching staff. They also liked that Harris enrolled this spring with three years of eligibility left.

"That was big because now the pressure's not on that you have got to get something out of him right away," KU offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. "No. 2, it was big because he could come mid-year, so he's been here in our offseason program, he's comfortable now with our players, our system. He's learning as he goes, and we'll get a chance to teach him the offense this spring.

"He's a real good athlete based on what he's done in our offseason running and conditioning drills and things that we're allowed to do at this point. He has size and speed, (he's) rangy, so there's a lot that he brings to the table."

Given his total package, Harris projects to fit in nicely not only from a talent standpoint, but also with the team's overall chemistry.

"I want to be around a lot of guys who want to win," Harris said. "That's the reason I chose Blinn, and the same reason I chose Blinn is the same reason I chose here. Because they want to win. Regardless of whether I'm starting or not, I want to win."

The winning is what ultimately sold Harris on KU. He's completely up front about that, admitting that, had the Jayhawks not shown the marked improvement they did in 2007 - going 12-1 and defeating Virginia Tech 24-21 in the Orange Bowl - the program probably wouldn't have caught his eye.

"Kansas wasn't really a school I really paid attention to, because I've always been on the bigger schools of the Big 12 like Texas A&M;, Texas, Texas Tech," he said. "Those are the schools I grew up watching. To see how they improved over the short time span, it's just amazing, and to be a part of a program that's growing is just something that you only get once in a lifetime.

"When they won the Orange Bowl, I remember watching TV. I was like, 'Man, they win this Orange Bowl, they offer me, I'm going to Kansas.' I told my brother that. He's like, 'Man, you're not going to Kansas.' I'm like, 'I'm going to Kansas. I don't care what daddy says, I'm going.'"

Not letting his father have too much say in his Div. I destination bucked a deep-rooted family tradition. Both Harris' father, Rod. Sr. (1985-88), and uncle, Darren Lewis (87-90), played at Texas A&M; before venturing into pro football careers. KU beat out A&M; (Harris said Dad is cool with it), San Diego State and Virginia, among others, for Rod Jr.

His numbers as a freshman at Blinn - 23 catches, 317 yards, two touchdowns in 10 games - don't pop off the page. But the Jayhawks ultimately could tout Harris as another diamond they've found in the Texas rough.

"As good as he's going to turn out to be next year, it's almost scary to think how good he could be in the 2010 season," gushed Franchione, son of former A&M; coach Dennis Franchione. "If he could make the improvements in the one year I knew him, it wouldn't be a question as to would he get drafted. It's which spot in the first round will he get drafted.

"The maturity I've seen him go through in 12 months, the speed improvement, the strength improvement : there's so much in front of him. It's really encouraging to know I had a little piece of that, because I could see Rod Harris being a real good football player for a lot of years down the road. And I think at KU, I would be shocked if they're anything but pleased with him for the next three seasons."

Harris already is comfortable with the decision to come to KU.

He has adjusted to the cold weather, is looking forward to playing with QB Todd Reesing (whose production in 2007 and overall presence he said also influenced his decision) and has bonded with his teammates rapidly, especially junior-to-be Darrell Stuckey.

The safety hosted Harris on his recruiting visit and serves as a mentor and counselor for him when he feels homesick.

On the field, at least so far, all parties seem satisfied.

"He brings great hands," sophomore receiver Dezmon Briscoe said. "I love the way he runs routes and how he's confident about himself as far as if a DB lines up against him, he knows he can beat 'em."

Added Warinner: "When he runs against our players that are our top-level players, he's as fast as those guys running against him, so I don't see him being slow afoot in anything we've done with him at this point."

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