They might be enemies on the field come Saturday. But when their teams are done battling, Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis plans on putting his arm around the Canes' Jacory Harris and delivering a message: "Keep your head up, 'Lil Bro."
Lewis, who grew up playing at the Northwest Boys and Girls Club in Miami with the younger Harris, is well aware of how the Canes quarterback has been getting chastised for his interception woes. And even though Lewis would love nothing more than to beat the Canes and help Duke remain eligible for its first bowl game since 1995, the last thing he wants to see is his close friend continue to struggle.
Harris has thrown 16 interceptions this season, second most among Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks. He's thrown nine of those picks in his last four games. Lewis, the leader of the ACC's top passing offense, said he's spoken to Harris "a handful of times" throughout the season and tried to help him grasp the different defensive looks he's seeing. The last time they spoke, according to Lewis, was after Harris led UM to a come-from-behind win at Wake Forest.
"I try calling him, but he's like the mayor of Miami. He's hard to get a hold of," Lewis joked. "When I can get a hold of him, I just talk to him about what he's doing on the football field. There's no trash talking, just love. I told him I want to get with him in the off-season and teach him some of the things I've learned. Playing quarterback at this level isn't easy. It's all about decision making. You have to learn a lot from your mistakes. I know where he's at right now."
Lewis does. He's been there before. As a first-year starter in 2006, he had just as much trouble understanding the complex defenses being thrown at him week to week. In 11 starts his freshman year, he threw 16 interceptions -- including one very costly one at the goal line in a crushing 20-15 loss to the Canes.
Lewis said Harris is learning the hard way he can't make every throw he wants to. "He has a great receiving corps," Lewis said. "He's told me sometimes he feels like he can take chances because he thinks his receivers can come down with the ball. I haven't seen all of his interceptions, but you can't blame him for all of them. I've just told him the same thing I'm sure his coaches have -- he needs to see the whole field.
"For a young guy like him, this is his first real year on the job. I told him 'When you throw interceptions, you have to find a theme, a certain look they throw at you on that play and remember to not do it again. And, you have to think of a different way to get rid of the ball in case the defense you see isn't what you studied for.' I know that's happened to him a few times. I also told him about his playaction fakes. I told him I'd help him with that after the season.
"Jacory is a good guy. No matter what, I always want to see him do good."
Had things been different Lewis might have been able to teach Harris some of these lessons in person. Despite being a two-time All-Dade selection at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High, the Hurricanes never bothered to show Lewis much recruiting interest.
His high school coach Jerry Hughes told before Lewis shared a recruiting diary with me and The Miami Herald before he chose Duke, UM coaches showed up once at his school to check him out and he never heard from them again. The Canes, already with two young quarterbacks named Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman, opted to sign Daniel Stegall instead. Stegall is now an outfielder in the Mets minor league system.
Lewis has turned out to be a pretty good quarterback at Duke -- with 9,375 career yards, 63 touchdowns and 38 INTs. Some guy named Ken Dorsey (9,565 yards, 86 TDs) is the only UM quarterback to have better numbers than that.
"Some people always tell me Thad if you were at The U things would have been different because they had so many quarterback troubles," Lewis said. "I just feel like I've been put in a situation for a reason. Randy Shannon is a good coach. He knows the talent he has in Dade County and he's not going to let it leave now."
JACORY: "WHIPPLE WANTS ME TO STAY AGGRESSIVE"... When asked Tuesday if the fact he doesn't have Robert Marve -- or a capable backup -- looking over his shoulder has affected his style of play this season, Harris said: "I know I take more chances -- way more chances than I would if [I had a backup]. I knew last year if I took more chances that would be it for me, I'd get no playing time. I'm just trying to win games. Basically, that's what it is -- do what's best for my team. These past two games, taking chances, that just wasn't best for the team."
But is it really so simple to believe Harris is just playing like a Quarterback Gone Wild? When the press conference was over, I asked Jacory privately if offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has asked him to reel in the aggressiveness and stop throwing the deep ball. Not the case.
"Coach Whipple told me to keep playing the way I've been playing," Harris said. "He has a lot of faith in me, trusts me. He just wants me to complete more throws. But he doesn't mind me taking chances. He wants me to be aggressive."
That sounds a lot more like the truth. While center AJ Trump said Harris is also naturally aggressive, he said Whipple encourages Harris not to be afraid of making mistakes. "Whip would never change the play call because Jacory is throwing interceptions," Trump said. "That's the way coach Whip is. He believes in his guys. Whip isn't going to change his mindset in Jacory."
-- The biggest thing to watch coming out of practice this week is how Harris adjusts to playing with a protective piece of equipment on his throwing hand. Harris said he's never played something "like that" before.
-- One thing we learned Tuesday, even while Harris hid his arm and cast underneath a large Hurricanes sweater, was he was in pain throughout Saturday's loss at North Carolina. "As soon as I said the cadence the pain would go away and I'd start to forget it. But as soon as I let the ball go, it came right back. I just have to play through it."
FYI... Be sure to check out our audio section. Lots of good, long interviews with seniors Jason Fox, AJ Trump, Chavez Grant and the press conferences of Jacory Harris and Randy Shannon.