By Jessica Dentino
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
John Harris’ career at Texas might have gotten off to a slow start, but the work the fifth-year wide receiver has put in is finally beginning to pay off.
The Garland, Texas, native started his career with the Longhorns quietly, redshirting his freshman year and suffering a foot injury three games into the 2011 season. Harris’ sophomore season saw his first touchdown reception. He showed some explosiveness in 2013, totaling 141 yards on five catches – an average of 28.2 yards per catch – and had a pair of touchdowns.
With the departure of Mike Davis, the team’s leading receiver last year, Harris came into fall camp eager for a chance to show Texas fans what he could do. In only five games he has done just that, more than doubling his yards from 2013 and making more receptions than the three previous seasons combined. A new starter for the Horns, he leads the team in receiving yards (370) and touchdown catches (4).
“I've been here a long time and I've had little to no success, so having the success that I'm having right now is great,” Harris said. “I just want to keep it going, try to help our team keep winning and try to move forward in the Big 12.”
Harris stated that the biggest change, in addition to his increased experience and athletic ability, is the coaching staff.
“Just having the opportunity from the coaching staff, being able to be trusted by those guys, I think was the biggest difference for me,” Harris said. “I can tell a lot of difference in myself. I've been getting pushed by the coaches a lot more. I'm in a lot better shape and dealing with the heat a lot better. I'm a lot better mentally and physically, so I guess you could say I'm a changed person.”
The senior has been working hard with head coach Charlie Strong and wide receivers coach Les Koenning both on and off the field. He appreciates their approach to the game and the balance of work and play.
“I love going into those [wide receivers] meetings with Coach K and the rest of those guys,” Harris said. “It’s a fun atmosphere, it’s great to be in there, there’s good team morale, but when it’s time to get serious, it’s time to get serious. I think it’s one of the best parts about this coaching staff, they really care about these players.”
For Koenning, who has a young and somewhat inexperienced receiving corps, having an older player like Harris has been helpful.
“He’s definitely competitive, and he’s shown that to me,” Koenning said. “He’s shown his leadership skills in the room also with the younger kids. He’s experienced some success on the field and I think that’s helped him a whole bunch in growing. I’m very pleased with his progress.”
Harris’ teammates have taken notice of his hard work and the changes he has gone through to improve his game and attitude.
“His mindset has completely changed,” said linebacker Jordan Hicks. “They gave him an opportunity, and he took full advantage of it in camp this year. I'm proud of what he's done. I think everybody knew he had it in him. Nobody is surprised at the numbers he's putting up and his ability because we've seen it for four years now. He's a very explosive wide receiver. I'm extremely happy for him and glad the way this senior year is starting to roll.”
The natural talent Harris possesses combined with his willingness to accept coaching and take on a leadership role has yielded great results. The senior joined famed UT receiver Jordan Shipley as one of only two players in school history to post a touchdown reception in each of the first four games.
Koenning says Harris’ attitude has helped not just himself, but the entire team.
“The one thing that I really enjoy about John is you can coach him,” Koenning said. “With a lot of kids at this position they come in with some privilege and some things like that behind their name. John wasn’t one of those guys. He’s a hard worker and he got out there and he lets you coach him. I think that’s part of the maturity and that’s part of being a good football player. When you can do that, and get better, you’re not only helping yourself in the future but you’re helping your team.”
In his last season, Harris hopes his legacy can help inspire the younger members of the team, and future teams to come.
“I never thought I would get this opportunity and I’m thankful and blessed for it,” Harris said. “I just want to be remembered as one of those guys who never gave up, that came in here, struggled a little bit, and then found a way to fight through it. I want to show people that anything is possible as long as you never quit.”