When you’re the son of a 14-year NFL veteran who made two Pro Bowls at cornerback, it’s only right that you grow up to play cornerback yourself.
Such is the case for South Carolina commitment Al Harris Jr., currently a senior at South Florida football powerhouse Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas and son of former Packers All-Pro Al Harris.
Harris Sr. was so adamant about his son playing cornerback as a youth that he would not allow his coaches to play him at other positions.
“In Little League they wanted him to play some wideout, but I wanted him to play what I can teach him,” says Harris Sr., who was drafted by the Buccaneers and played five seasons with the Eagles before having his best years in Green Bay. “The technique that he’s been using now, he’s been taught since he was 7 years old.”
That technique he learned from his father has earned the consensus three-star recruit a spot in the Gamecocks’ 2014 recruiting class. With defensive backs coach Grady Brown recruiting him, Harris committed to head coach Steve Spurrier this past summer without even taking a visit to South Carolina.
“I really like their defensive scheme,” says Harris Jr., who chose the Gamecocks over Louisville, Florida State, Wisconsin, Arkansas and N.C. State. “I feel they’re very aggressive. They always produce a lot of high-quality defensive linemen and linebackers, so the front end helps the back end.
“Also, I have a big opportunity to come in and play right away. That’s very important to me, and I have the best relationship with their coaching staff.”
He also says seeing the success of current Gamecocks plays a part in his decision as well, namely Jadeveon Clowney.
“That’s definitely a playing factor — seeing how good he is,” Harris Jr. says. “He’s like the face of defense, not only South Carolina, he’s the face of defense right now.”
Harris Jr. says other schools still send him mail, but he has no plans of visiting any of them aside from South Carolina, where he tentatively hopes he can visit the week of the Florida game on Nov. 16.
It’s more than just football technique that Harris Jr. has picked up from his father.
He’s gotten to see first-hand the work ethic necessary to excel at the highest level. Harris Sr. calls him his “workout partner” in the offseason, coming to workouts with his father since he was 2 years old.
“[What I’ve learned] on and off the field is just you have to be hungry, you have to be determined, you have to want it more than the next man,” Harris Jr. says. “That’s what my father has instilled in me.”
Added Harris Sr.: “I just always tell him that you may play with guys that are faster than you, bigger, stronger, but they can never outwork you. You can never be comfortable. You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
“You always have to work, and you always have to work harder than the next guy. So while he’s home sleeping, you may be home doing pushups or going over the technique in your head.”
Harris Jr. is part of a high school football program in St. Thomas Aquinas that has won state championships two of the last three seasons. The Raiders are off to a 3-1 start, including two wins against a pair of former national champions in games played in NFL stadiums.
First St. Thomas Aquinas beat down 2007 national champion Miami Northwestern 38-3 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, and then the Raiders defeated defending national champion River Ridge (La.) John Curtis in the Superdome, a game in which Harris Jr. got to go up against five-star receiver Malachi Dupre.
Harris Jr. is the leader of a young secondary for St. Thomas Aquinas.
“Kids look up to Al, not only on the field, but in the classroom,” St. Thomas Aquinas coach Rocco Casullo says. “Teachers love him. Very polite — yes sir, no sir. When he gets on that football field, he becomes mean.”
For seniors with Division-I offers at St. Thomas Aquinas, it’s commonplace to knock out a decision on where to play college ball before that final season begins so as to avoid distractions during the year.
Harris Jr. followed that protocol, but one teammate who remains undecided is defensive lineman Anthony Moten, a former Florida commitment. Moten currently lists South Carolina in his top three along with Miami and Florida State, but Harris Jr. says he’s not pushing him to be a Gamecock with him.
“I know that at the end of the day he’s going to go where his heart leads him so I try not to bother him too much about that,” Harris Jr. says.