April 4, 2012

SAM LB Harris gaining momentum in spring

EAST LANSING - Redshirt freshman linebacker Darien Harris laughs at the idea that his old high school, Washington, D.C.'s DeMatha Catholic is still considered a basketball school a decade after legendary prep basketball coach Morgan Wootten ended his coaching career with more than 1,200 wins.

"It does both,'' he said of DeMatha's reputation for sending recruits to D-1 colleges. "It's more so known for basketball because of Morgan Wootten but our football program is definitely up their in the higher tiers as well.''

In the midst of Michigan State's spring practice, Harris is trying to do everything he can to upgrade DeMatha's football reputation.

The son of a former Virginia Tech running back, Harris entered the 2012 spring ball season No. 2 on the depth chart at the STAR linebacker spot behind sophomore Taiwan Jones, who ascended to the top spot this spring when an injury sidelined to last year's starter senior Chris Norman for the spring season.

It's an opportunity Harris wants to make the best of during the month of April.

"Anytime there's an injury in place the way Coach D recruits, he does a great job so anybody can step in and take the role,'' said Harris, who was recruited by d-line coach Ted Gill, and also had offers from Duke, Illinois, Purdue, Syracuse and Central Florida, among others. "Chris is a great player and somebody I really look up to. He's someone I've followed and watched what he does and tried to improve my game (through watching him) but definitely with him out, I think I can move up.''

Eventhough he sits at the No. 2 spot, the 6-foot, 215-pound Harris is trying to use this opportunity to put his name in the mix for playing time in the near future, much like junior starter and SAM linebacker Denicos Allen did a season ago.

"I absolutely look at Denicos' situation. It would be an honor to start on this defense and it's something I'm definitely looking to achieve. I'm definitely looking to move up.''

Harris was able to catch the attention of MSU's coaches with a nice hit on senior running back Larry Caper as the Spartans began practice in pads this week.

"I got him,'' he said with a laugh. "He cut back and it was just a situation where he cut back and he wasn't looking and I got him . . . but that's an excellent (running) back. One I think is definitely an NFL player. I got him on the ground but he was a good sport about it. He shook my hand after and we talked about it, plus, he got me back there on another drill.

"But it absolutely made me feel good. Coming out here and making plays makes me feel that maybe I'm ready to take on the challenges of the Big Ten and college football. It really makes me feel like I can really play on this level.''

While Harris did sit out last season as a redshirt, he was able to make some noise during the Spartans' 11-win finish, earning Scout Team Offensive Player of the Week honors for the Iowa game.

This season though, he expects to leave behind the wide-eyed newcomer who was just trying to take hold of an overwhelming situation.

"I feel like I'm a lot further along,'' he said. "Last season, I came in here not knowing what to expect. The speed of the game was amazing and everybody was bigger stronger and faster. So just getting everything thing down, getting the timing down, is what I took time to do last year. Now that I'm a year ahead and took that redshirt year, I feel like I can just play fast and just play smooth.''

As a former high school running back, who also played some safety, Harris' versatility should help with his development in a defense whose linebacking play depends on speed as much as it does power.
So when defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi talks about the Spartans' defense playing faster, Harris seems to be a perfect fit because he has had success at two positions that depend heavily on speed and instincts.

"All the coaches have talked to me about is just keeping it up, keep improving, keep watching film and keep looking at the older guys for help. And not going back. Mistakes are going to be made, they understand that and I understand that but as long as I keep playing fast, they said I can keep improving.''

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