Before setting off for the Florida Sports Writers Association college coaches meetings in Tampa this weekend, I caught up with UM quarterback recruit Jacory Harris Friday afternoon to discuss his week-long trip out to California for the EA Sports Elite 11 Quarterback Camp.
As reporters, we're not supposed to have favorite players to interview. But I can't help but feel good everytime I speak to Miami Northwestern's leader. Jacory is quite honestly the type of kid you root for because he's a shining example of what the other kids who come from the rough streets of Liberty City should strive to be. He's an excellent student with a 3.4 GPA who takes honors classes, a tremendous leader who has held his team together through Northwestern's recent troubles and one heck of a quarterback. He proved that this week in the mountains in Mission Viejo, finishing fourth among 12 of the nation's most talented quarterback recruits in the Class of 2008 based on the opinions of guys like Joe Montana, Heisman candidates Colt Brennan (Hawaii), Chad Henne (Michigan) and many other talented camp counselors.
Harris, rated a three-star recruit by both Rivals and Scout.com, is sure to climb up the recruiting rankings soon. But even that won't do him justice in terms of value. The fact Miami was able to nab him away from LSU (his admitted first true love) has ultimately resulted in the Canes getting his more highly -soughtafter teammates WR Aldarius Johnson and DT Marcus Forston this week. Both love Jacory and gravitate towards him as their leader and are only following him to Miami because offensive coordinator Patrick Nix and company stood by his side when most so-called experts have had their doubts about a 6-4, 170-pound gunslinger being nothing more than the typical "athletic quarterback." Harris got rid of that stereotype this week and UM is richer for having believed in him before he proved it to the rest of the world.
To get an idea of what the camp counselors thought of Jacory, here is what former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin said of Harris in an interview with Student Sports Magazine.
Tee Martin on Jacory Harris: "To me, he would be the guy I would take if I could pick just one quarterback here," Martin said. "I think his upside is off the charts. He throws a great ball, has a quick release and his ability to throw rolling out is unreal. For me though, he brings so much more to the table than just how he plays. He's the guy that pumps up everyone else in the group he's throwing with. If one of the guys makes a good throw, he's yelling encouragement to him. He challenges the other guys to try and complete 10 balls in a row and if they do, he says, 'lets get 20.' Even at the beach, all the guys were playing volleyball just having fun but when Jacorey went over there, it instantly became very competitive. Then he went over to the basketball court and dominated there. I just love the kid and feel he could be special."
Harris scored 13 points in the passing skills competitions on accuracy from various passing distances. He placed eighth overall in the points standings. But his ability to throw on the run earned him the best feet award.
Harris, who was the first quarterback from Miami-Dade or Broward ever to compete in the prestigous camp, told me he had a ball out in California. In addition to the camp, he played beach volleyball, had a dunk competition with Star Jackson, a one-on-one receiving showdown with camp MVP and Nebraska bound Blaine Gabbert (who has 4.4-speed) and even a scary moment when he was tossed by 15 foot waves back onto the beach at Laguna Beach. In addition to all that, he came home with an autographed football and plenty of memories.
Anyway, I want to share with you some of the highlights of our half-hour Q&A session Friday. Our complete interview has been uploaded to Herald.com for your listening pleasure. Follow this link.
Q: What was the experience like?
A: "It was a wonderful experience because I got to meet a lot of people that I didn't know from across the nation. It was all great athletes and great players. It was a great opportunity. It was held at an All-Asian University in Mission Viejo. I had never been out to California, but the view was real pretty. It was something that I would be glad to move there one day."
Q: But not before before you finish college right?
A: "No. After college (laughter)."
Q: So what exactly was the competition like? Who did you meet? Who impressed you? And how do you think you did?
A: "There were 12 quarterbacks in the competition. We had to do footwork drills, good ball/bad ball, 7-on-7, we had chalk and film. We had those type of drills and I finished fourth... to pick one quarterback as the MVP would be unfair. I was telling my mother that we all were basically the same people. The way we act, the way we carry ourselves on the field. I'm usually going to say I am the best quarterback. But your ego changes when you get up there and you see the competition. When I started the competition, I didn't ever think I'd be able to sit in those same seats those same great players -- Chris Leak, JeMarcus Russell, Troy Smith -- once sat in. That really shocked me. Plus, when the counselors told us at the beginning of the camp we were projected to be one of the worst group of quarterbacks to ever come to the Elite 11 according to Scout.com, Rivals and all that, we came into the camp with a chip on our shoulders and more confidence than ever. It turns out the last day, Colt Brennan, Andre Woodson and all them told us we were the best group ever because everybody there was good. They said the past Elite 11 camps had 3 or 4 people who couldn't throw the ball. But they said everyone here [this year] had something and could do something on the next level."
Q: I heard you spent a lot extra time breaking down film on your own with some of the coaches, late into the night. What made you want to do that?
A: "Me, [FSU QB recruit] EJ Manuel and [Lake Worth High] Star [Jackson] would go down there. Sometimes it was me by myself. But sometimes we'd go down and look at film and break it down so that in the morning when he would ask us questions we knew what he was going ask us. One of the guys we were worked out with that I really learned from was Colt Brennan from Hawaii. He had been through somethings himself and showed that no matter what, you got to work through some things if you want to accomplish that bigger goal. [Missouri quarterback] Chase Daniels was somebody I hung out with too because he played for Southlake Carroll [whom Northwestern plays Sept. 15 in Dallas] and we were too busy trash-talking about that. We went on the board and broke down coverages and he would show me what he would do. It was a lot of things, but I took something from every counselor that was there."
Q: How much of the stuff you saw were you familiar with, and unfamiliar with?
A: "I was familiar with the majority of the stuff. But the language, that's kind of what was throwing me off. But when I was looking at things it was kind of the same stuff I see here in Florida, but some of it was on a college level, the linebackers dropping way back and doing certain things. I learned a lot looking at tendencies and other things I took from that film session."
Q: For some of the Canes fans who might be hearing you for the first time, just tell them when you started playing quarterback for the first time and how it all came about.
A: "I started playing QB my ninth grade year when as a receiver I was running a route and the quarterback through the ball behind me. got pretty mad and I took that opportunity and grabbed a ball and threw a strike. And that's when they said you need to play quarterback."
Q: Last night, before you got home your teammate Marcus Forston became the fourth Northwestern player to commit to UM. Were you surprised he announced this early? And what does it mean to have four of you guys going to school together?
A: "I wasn't that surprised because he had told me when I committed he was going to do it right when I do it. So, I did it and I called him and he was like 'No man, I'm not ready for that yet.' But I always knew because before this week they were talking about how it was going to happen soon. So, I was just waiting for it to happen. I really wasn't surprised... But it's great because now all we got to do is take what we have here and transfer it to Miami and basically do the same thing we're doing here at Miami. I think we can win some national championships there."
Q: When did your love affair with the Canes really begin and when did you really know you were going to be a UM quarterback?
A: "I really wanted to go to LSU at first even though I was a die-hard Cane because I wanted to go out of state and that was the team I was hoping to get an offer from. But then, I thought about it and I was like let me wait to see if I get a Miami offer. I did. Then, I weighed them out. Then, LSU stopped talking to me. So, I said I'm going to go with my obvious choice, my home team -- and the team I want to be at, so why not choose it."
Q: Now, there's a chance after this Elite 11 camp, some teams might come after you, maybe even LSU. Is your recruiting done with?
A: "Yeah my recruiting is done with. I'm going to Miami no matter what."
Q: Can you talk about your relationship with Patrick Nix and what it was that impressed you about him? And what about your relationship with coach Shannon and the rest of UM's staff?
A: "He's a real down to earth person and he's real cool. He'll tell you the truth, really. He's someone you can hang out with. He tells me 'We're married.' We're real cool. He went bowling the other day with the offense, so you know he's real down to earth. The relationship with coach Shannon is real good because he knows my father. They played against each other in high school. My daddy played for Northwestern in '84 and played against Randy at Norland."
Q: Seven months ago, this program was coming off a bad season in which they went 7-6, they had the Bryan Pata tragedy, the brawl with FIU, what has Randy done to get 16 commitments this early in the game -- and 16 good ones at that? What do you think Coach Shannon has done to change the image of Miami?
A: "I really don't know. Coach Shannon is real cool. The way he recruited as a defensive coordinator, he's the same as a head coach. He'll treat you the same no matter what. The things he has in place, the 2.5 GPA to live off campus, you can tell he's for the student athlete look. He's not just about football. He's about books before football and that's the way a coach should always be. A coach should never be about football over education or football over family. And that's the type of coach Shannon is."
Q: Is that something you think kids in the innercity really want, a father figure? You grew up with a good father, good parents, but a lot of your teammates and others don't have fathers in their lives. Do you think coach Shannon being that father figure, laying the discipline down is what has made him popular with a lot of recruits?
A: "Yes because without that, you'll have those guys running around and getting in trouble all the time. And that's just made the difference... there are a lot of other programs that will be like UM is only taking you because they're trying to get the rest of [Northwestern's players]. And when I hear that, I'll be like OK, so why are you telling me this? I know you're trying to get me. Why are you trying to down Miami? I haven't heard coach Shannon or any of his assistants ever say anything. They never even talk about other schools. They talk about us and how we're doing in life. They never talk about football, except how we're going to do our senior year."
Q: Why do you think that approach has been so successful?
A: "Because it makes you feel good because you know now somebody is going to have your back. Nobody is going to do anything behind your back and they're going to do what's best for the child."