Bill Hass on #ACCfbk: Eagles' Harris Uses Consistency in Pursuit of Rushing Record

July 25, 2011


By Bill Hass
theACC.com

Boston College senior trails NC State's Ted Brown in mark that has stood 33 years

PINEHURST, N.C. - Montel Harris has certainly measured up - and then some - to the specifications determined by Boston College.

Now a senior running back, Harris has a chance to break one of the ACC's longest-held and most honored records - career rushing yardage. He needs 1,003 yards this season to eclipse the mark of 4,602 yards, set by Ted Brown of NC State from 1975-78.

"I haven't seen any film on him but I've heard some great things about Ted Brown," Harris said at the ACC Football Kickoff. "I just think it's an honor to have a chance to break a record that a great running back has held for a long time.

"I'm pretty confident that if I stay healthy I should be able to break the record by the end of the season."

There's the rub, of course - staying healthy. Harris injured a knee in the 11th game of last season and missed the Eagles' final regular-season game plus their bowl game. He said he's fine now.

"I was pretty worried about it," he said, "but I couldn't let it get me down and I used that as motivation in the offseason to get my knee back to 100 percent and be able to perform at the level I was performing before I got hurt. This is the best it's felt since I had the surgery, so I'm excited going into camp. I would call it 100 percent."

Harris' opportunity to break a 33-year-old record almost never happened. At Trinity Christian High School in Jacksonville, Fla., he played in the same backfield with Jamie Harper and the two divided the carries from a Wing T offense. But Harper, who was bigger, drew more recruiting attention and signed with Clemson.

Harris received offers from Ball State and Duke and gave an oral commitment to the Blue Devils. But Boston College entered the picture during the last week of the signing period. The Eagles said they would sign Harris under two conditions.

"They gave me a couple measurements I had to live up to," he said. "I had to be 5-foot-9 and weigh 195 pounds. "They offered me a scholarship from there. I was both 5-9 and 195 exactly."

With a new coaching staff at Duke that was going to emphasize passing, Harris saw an opportunity at Boston College. He started as the fourth-string running back and was going to be redshirted, but he kept working and moving up the depth chart. In the second game of his freshman season, an injury knocked out the Eagles' starter. Harris took over and has been the running back ever since.

He ran for 900 yards as a freshman, 1,437 as a sophomore and 1,243 as a junior. His total of 3,600 yards gives him one ACC record - most rushing yards through a junior year. He was voted the ACC Preseason Player of the Year by media members at the ACC Football Kickoff.

"Basically I just believed in myself and knew that I had to work hard to prove to everyone else that I could do it," he said. "Working hard and staying consistent (are the keys) because consistency can never be denied."

ANATOMY OF A SACK: Brandon Jenkins laughed when asked to explain how he gets to the quarterback. That's how much the Florida State junior enjoys making a sack. The defensive end did it 13.5 times last season, leading the ACC and ranking third in the nation.

"It all comes down to before the ball is snapped," he said. "You've got to look in the quarterback's eyes and see what he's about to do. Sometimes you know if it's going to be a run or a pass, look at the linemen, try to jump the ball, as soon as the ball is hiked. I try to do a little speed around the edge and if the quarterback is sitting there with the ball in his hands, just try to take him down."

Jenkins had to learn to push through double-teams that became common around the sixth or seventh game last year.

"I've just got to go harder, try to out-think it," he said. "Sometimes it can be a mind game, you think you'll get double-teamed and you can't get to the quarterback, but you try to play through it."

THINKING LESS HELPS: In 2010, Duke QB Sean Renfree threw 15 interceptions in the first seven games of the season and only two in the final five games. A call from former Blue Devil QB Thaddeus Lewis, whom Renfree understudied for two seasons, helped him turn things around.

"I was struggling there and got a call from Thad," Renfree said, "and he said I've got to start thinking less and just playing more. I thought it was interesting that you have to think less about the game (because) as a quarterback you should be thinking all the time. But it made sense to me.

"The Xs and Os part, the preparation, you put in the back of your mind and it becomes more natural. It's more representative of the kind of quarterback I can be. The less I think and the more I play, that will help me."

TIMBER! Football is filled with interesting terminology. For an offensive lineman, one of the most meaningful is the number of "pancake blocks," where a defender is knocked on his back.

Miami center Tyler Horn had 39 pancakes in 2010 and was also credited with seven "lumberjacks."

Say what?

"A lumberjack is when you cut a defensive lineman, a cut block," he explained. "It's fun when you take a guy's legs out. It definitely wears on a defensive lineman because they hate it. You cut them and they start cussing you out, telling you to stop it. It gets in their heads, so it's a good block, a very good tool to have. "

And it's perfectly legal, as opposed to a chop block, which is an illegal high-low double-team.

"You've got to be in front of them," Horn said, "and accelerate through their legs and take them to the ground."

NICKNAME ORIGIN: Clemson defensive tackle Brandon Thompson is called "Yams," a nickname he said he doesn't mind. According to the Tigers' press notes, he was given the name because of the size of his thighs.

Thompson scoffed at that notion.

"I know that's what it says," he said about the bio note, "but I don't know where that came from. It actually came from me and one of the upper classmen having a conversation in camp my freshman year and he said, `You know what? I'm just going to start calling you Yams.'

"Coach (Tommy) Bowden called me that one time, and once he said it, it stuck. It wasn't going anywhere then."

Ironically, Thompson said he doesn't even like sweet potatoes and that's what started the conversation that led to his nickname.

As long as he plays like he did last season - 56 tackles, a sack, 15 quarterback pressures and three pass breakups - Thompson probably won't mind answering to anything.

BLINDERS ON: Danny O'Brien burst on the scene as a redshirt freshman for Maryland last year, starting 10 games and throwing for 2,438 yards and 22 TDs. The ACC Rookie of the Year helped spur the Terps to a 9-4 season that included a bowl win. So what does he do for an encore?

"Just keep the blinders on and keep looking forward," he said. "Last year we had a pretty good year and kind of knocked on the door of what we wanted to get. This year the goal is to win the ACC title and that's going to come through great team play. Last year is over and it's time to do it all over again but do it a lot better."

To O'Brien, keeping the blinders on means shutting out distractions and expectations and focusing on the task at hand, which is learning the offense of new coach Randy Edsall.

"It's a new language, that's the main thing," O'Brien said. "A lot of things we did last year were the exact same as this year, just called something completely different. It comes through repetition and getting out there with the guys."

FEELING COMFORTABLE: Wake Forest changed to a 3-4 defense in the eighth game of 2010 and Kyle Wilber had to switch from end to linebacker and learn on the fly. The Deacons will remain in the 3-4 and Wilber feels settled in.

"We want to put more speed on the field now," he said. "We feel like speed kills and we're going to try to cause chaos out there, controlled chaos. I'm real comfortable now.

"Maryland was the first game I played outside linebacker and I didn't feel like I played a great game. I didn't know what to do; I was asking other players around me. But now I feel a lot more comfortable and people are asking me what they're supposed to do. It's going to help our whole defense out."

LOVES THE CONTACT: Wide receiver Kris Burd has improved from seven to 31 to 58 catches in his first three seasons at Virginia. He said his best assets are being dependable, being able to catch the ball and being a physical blocker in the running game.

Wait minute - a wide receiver who actually enjoys blocking?

"A wide receiver who can block helps the offense because it can turn a 5-yard gain into a 20-yard gain," Burd explained. "You pick up the safety or block the corner or something like that. Whenever I get a chance to put my hands on somebody I'm smiling inside because I get to blow somebody up. I just love the contact of the game.

"I used to love playing defense in high school. I miss that contact and the best way to get it is in the run game."

Burd said he lobbies Virginia defensive coordinator Jim Reid to give him a snap on defense, "but (knows) he's not going to ever do it."

PUNT AND CATCH?: Danny Coale is in the running to be the starting punter as well as a starting wide receiver at Virginia Tech this season. Coale caught 39 passes for an 18.8 yard average and three touchdowns last year.

As much emphasis as coach Frank Beamer puts on special teams, can Coale handle both chores?

"If it worked out for the best of the team and I could truly help the team in that part of the game," he said, "then I'd be thrilled to help them out. If I'm not the guy, then there's someone better out there for it. I'm enjoying the competition. It hasn't taken away from my wide receiver duties yet."

The big question, of course, is could Coale stay in the game and punt if he took a big hit on a third-down play at receiver?

"I don't want to put coach Beamer in a situation where he has to take a time out," Coale said. "Those are things I really won't know until they come."

LOOKING TO IMPROVE: So what does a two-time All-ACC tight end want to achieve in his final season?

"It's a real important year for me," said NC State's George Bryan. "It's my last year, my senior year and I definitely want to go out improved from last year. I would love to get better in everything. Obviously my blocking probably could be a little better."

In three years Bryan has caught 93 passes for 992 yards and 13 TDs. And after having Russell Wilson throw to him his entire career, he now has a new quarterback in Mike Glennon.

Wilson embarked on a pro baseball career and has since transferred to Wisconsin. While Bryan wishes him well, he said Glennon, a redshirt junior, is ready. Glennon has played in the spring every year while Wilson played baseball for the Wolfpack.

"He definitely proved himself to the team as soon as he got here that he's no joke and he's a really good quarterback," Bryan said. "He's the first guy there and the last guy to leave, always trying to coordinate a 7-on-7 (workout) or studying film. He's a lot stronger and the ball velocity is a lot harder than it was when he first got here."

FIERY COMPETITOR: NC State isn't the only team with an offense that will adjust to a new quarterback. Another is North Carolina, where sophomore Bryn Renner follows the graduated T.J. Yates. Guard Jonathan Cooper believes how well the line plays will help Renner's development.

"It makes the offense more contingent upon our play," Cooper said. "As an offensive line you like that when the offense leans on you to produce.

"He hates to lose at anything. He's a fiery competitor; he likes to do everything 110 percent. To be an ACC quarterback, it will be a pretty big learning curve but he'll have the cast around him to be able to do it. I feel like he'll be very good if we establish the running game and aren't always depending on the passing game."

RALLYING AROUND: At Georgia Tech, Tevin Washington takes over for the graduated Joshua Nesbitt. When Nesbitt was injured late last season, Washington replaced him and then won the job outright in the spring.

"He's the one with the experience and he's the one guys are rallying around," said Tech running back Roddy Jones. "I think he's done a good job of embracing that role and becoming the vocal leader that he needs to be.

"He brings a different skill set than Nesbitt did. Nesbitt was a freak of an athlete, 6-2, 225 pounds and looks like he was carved out of concrete. We know that Tevin is not going to be the same kind of physical runner that Nesbitt was but he's smart and has a lot of experience and he's going to do a great job for us."


Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.


E-mail Bill Hass

This article can not be copied or reproduced without the express written consent of the Atlantic Coast Conference.