Harris emerging as focal point of Texas offense

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Entering 2014, fifth-year senior receiver John Harris’ collegiate career was best known for a couple highlights. Harris threw Texas’ first touchdown pass in 2011 — a 36-yard strike to senior receiver Jaxon Shipley in the season opener against Rice. Harris scored Texas’ first touchdown in 2013, too, and last season, he caught a 44-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass against Iowa State to help the Longhorns take a 17-13 lead into halftime.

But it’s impossible to discuss Harris’ career in Austin without talking about its low points. For one, that catch against Iowa State marked his last reception in 2013, although he played in each of Texas’ eight remaining games. Going further back than that, Harris missed the final 10 games of the 2011 season after sustaining a foot injury, which sent him plummeting down the depth chart.

“After I got hurt, I gained a lot of weight, and I struggled in practices and camp,” Harris said.

Harris’ weight ballooned to 230 pounds in 2013, his heaviest playing weight. Harris pondered quitting the game he loved after struggling to secure reps on offense and fully recover from his injury. 

“There’s been times where I’ve wanted to just give up, but my brother really helped me a lot with that,” Harris said. “He told me, ‘Don’t ever let anybody take anything from you.’ Whether it be the coaches or anything, just don’t quit on something because then you’ll just quit for the rest of your life. It’s easy to quit, but it’s harder to stay and keep fighting.”

Following head coach Charlie Strong’s hire in January, Harris felt as if he had been given a new opportunity to change his legacy at Texas.

“I think it’s his mind-set. His mind-set has completely changed,” said redshirt senior linebacker Jordan Hicks, who has roomed with Harris since freshman year. “They gave him an opportunity, and he took full advantage of it in camp this year.”

Sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes also sees a change in the way Harris approaches the game.

“John [Harris] worked hard in the off-season,” Swoopes said. “He lost a little bit of weight, so he moves a little bit better than he had been. I can tell that his demeanor has changed.” 

Now down to 217 pounds, Harris is Texas’ leading receiver and already having the best season of his career. Through two games, he has caught 13 passes, four more than he had in his first four seasons in Austin combined. And his 187 receiving yards so far nearly match the 190 he recorded in the previous four seasons. 

“I’m proud of what he’s done,” Hicks said. “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.”

Ultimately, Harris points to his struggles to get playing time as the key to his growth as a player.

“Having some of those freshmen come in and be in front of me kind of helped me out a lot, “ Harris said. “You know, it taught me to grow up and see when I did get the opportunity to get a second chance that this is my opportunity to play, as a senior, and to leave out of here the right way.”

Harris’ maturity is evident and should help guide a Texas offense that is in desperate need of a senior leader.