Big 12 Sports.com Correspondent
When Oklahoma's defensive coaches asked Nic Harris to make an in-season, one-game move to middle linebacker - the fifth defensive position he has played - Harris shrugged his shoulders. For him, a move was no big deal.
Harris spent his childhood on the move. His young parents were unable to care for him so he spent his formative years in Alexandria, La., moving from relative to relative, house to house. When he most needed stability, Harris' world was all about uncertainty.
"I didn't have the best upbringing," Harris said. "I had my grandmothers there to help, but at the end of the day I never had anyone to tell me which direction to go, the right way to do things. I had people who were paramount in my life, but you never can replace the void that you have from a mother's or father's love. I never had that."
"For so long in my life, I didn't talk about my story because I was ashamed of it. I thought what I was going through was my fault. But it wasn't my fault. No one should go through what I went through."
Harris, a 6-3, 230-pound senior safety, is one of the nation's best at his position. He is deeply involved in community outreach programs. Harris' desire is to help others as he was helped.
The fifth day of his freshman year in high school, Harris remembers the life-altering meeting with Kelli Welch, his guidance counselor.
"I had to tell somebody," Harris said. "I closed the door and told her to not say anything. Two hours later, when I finished telling her my story, she was in tears."
Welch became another surrogate mom, helping a support system that included LaQuanda Harrell, who moved in with Nic's father when Nic was eight years old, is his legal guardian. Harris said that without Welch he would have never signed his letter of intent.
"He taught me a lot," Welch, now a high school principal, told the Tulsa World. "He taught me that kids are stronger than we give 'em credit for a lot of the time.
"He wasn't one to really talk about the difficult aspects of his life. He was more on the positive, you know, 'I'm in this situation but I'm gonna make it, I'm gonna be a better person for it.'"
Harris is a two-term president of Bridge Builders, a minority community service organization that participates in several projects in the Norman/Oklahoma City area. He has worked with Toys for Tots. When he meets with children, Harris makes sure to tell his story.
"I never asked the question 'Why me?' I asked 'Why not me?'" Harris said. "I've come to the realization there's a very small percentage of kids who went through what I went through who have wound up on the right path. I have every reason in the world not to be where I'm at. I look on it as an extreme blessing that things have turned out like they have."
Harris' responsibility was evident during his sophomore season. In an infamous loss at Oregon, he had two interceptions. The second appeared to clinch a victory for the Sooners. But a controversial officiating gaffe on an onside kick gave the Ducks a second chance. The winning touchdown was caught by the receiver Harris was covering.
"The best teaching tool is failure and I've failed a lot in life," Harris said.
So after Oklahoma lost to Texas and also lost middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds to an injury, the defensive game plan to slow Kansas the following week involved moving Harris to Reynolds' position.
"It was an honor to know they wanted me to play there," Harris said. "The coaches thought I was good fit considering who we were playing. I was able to play the run as well as the pass.
"I attribute it to preparation. I'm one of those guys when called upon, no matter what you want me to do, where you want me to play, I'm willing to do it to get on the field."
Harris has the size, ability and versatility to play in the NFL. If that works out, so be it. But in 20 years, Harris wants a prosperous family and to be head of a foundation that helps underprivileged kids. He wants to base it in his hometown of Alexandria, La.
"I tell kids that no matter how dark it is, there's light at the tunnel," Harris said. "It depends on how far you can see."