Buccaneer Spotlight - Tyrese HarrisSeptember 28, 2009
Rob Walden, CSU Sports Information
“You want me to do what?”
That would be a common reaction for many college football players when faced with the request to change positions. It is a response that might be even more commonplace from a player who had started as a true freshman at his old position and had emerged in just two years as one of the most feared weapons in the Big South Conference. And it might be a nearly-acceptable answer from a player who was going to have to take a year off from football, in the middle of his prime, to learn the new assignment.
But Tyrese Harris is not one of those players.
Harris, a hulking, 6’2” mountain of a man, could have said no when Charleston Southern Head Coach Jay Mills asked him to move from defensive end to tight end before the 2007 campaign, Harris’ third at CSU, after starting tight end Clayton Coffman went down with an injury. He could have refused when he looked at his stats on the defensive side of the ball, where he accumulated 40 tackles and 3.5 sacks in his two seasons as a pass rusher. He might have balked when Coffman recovered in time for the 2007 opener against rival Citadel, meaning Harris would need to take a redshirt season.
But Harris has never played the game for statistical milestones or personal glory, and he didn’t come to Charleston Southern to see his name in the headlines after big victories. So when Mills approached him with his request during offseason workouts before his junior season, saying no wasn’t even in the back of his mind.
“I said it was fine with me,” Harris, now a fifth-year senior, says when reflecting on the conversation. “I told Coach that I would do whatever it took to help the team.”
So Harris got to work learning routes and blocking assignments. The Hephzibah, Ga., native had played the position as a prep player at Butler High School, but that didn’t quite compare to playing the position at the NCAA Division I level, where the offensive schemes are more complex and the defensive linemen that stand on the other side of the ball possess a fascinating mix of strength and agility.
“Looking back, I’m glad I took that redshirt year, because I was not ready to play the tight end position at this level,” Harris says, showing none of the arrogance that is all-too-common in today’s athletes. “It was tough not suiting up on Saturdays and making road trips with the team, but I needed that year to study and improve my game.”
The work hasn’t stopped now that Harris has firmly entrenched himself as one of the team’s stalwarts at the position, along with fellow fifth-year senior Coffman. “Even now,” says Harris, “not a day goes by when I don’t go to the jugs after practice to catch extra balls, when I don’t study my playbook at night. I don’t want to lose all of the progress I’ve made.”
That progress paid off when Harris caught a touchdown pass against national powerhouse Miami (Fla.) in his first game at the tight end position. He went on to catch three more touchdowns in the 2008 season. And his experience on the other side of the ball has helped turn Harris into one of the finest blockers on the team. “I can tell what a defensive end is going to do on a play by the way they line up and how they position their feet,” Harris says with a knowing smile. “That gives me a leg up when I go to block that most offensive players don’t have.”
“Tyrese is a fine young man and a great example to his teammates,” says Mills. “He’s worked very hard to get where he is, and that makes me very proud as a coach.”
Harris’ unselfish attitude and his willingness to sacrifice his own personal gain for the good of the team did not go unnoticed by his teammates. His team-first nature, combined with the fact that he’s one of just three remaining Buccaneers to have played on the 2005 Big South Championship team, have made him into one of the unquestioned leaders on the 2009 squad.
“Guys on the team ask me about certain situations, and I can help them, because I have been there before,” says Harris. “In some ways, I’m almost a player-coach this season, because I can show guys how it’s supposed to be done.”
How does this team stack up to the one that won the conference title four years ago?
“We have just as much talent as (the 2005 team),” Harris says confidently. “Now the only questions marks are execution and leadership.”
With veterans like Harris on the roster, consider one of those questions answered.