September 6, 2013

Nose tackle Harrison took circuitous path to possible starting role in NFL


The Jeep Cherokee cut through falling snow and rolled past cornfields, nearing the end of a 600-mile trip from Senatobia, Miss., to Oskaloosa, Iowa.
Here on the fringes of college football, Damon Harrison looked out the Jeep’s window, admiring snow for the first time in his life. He and five large teammates from Northwest Mississippi Community College were jammed in with their bags, as coach Steven Miller drove them on a recruiting visit to his new school, William Penn University.
The players were unprepared for this adventure. They scraped the windows with their debit cards, so they could absorb the scene. When they climbed out of the Jeep at William Penn, several slipped and fell in the snow, including Harrison. He knew so little about this next step in his life that he initially thought Miller would drive to William and Mary, which is in Virginia, and not William Penn, an NAIA school 60 miles from Des Moines.
“I didn’t know, and at the time, I really didn’t care,” Harrison said.
Only one thing mattered to Harrison: Miller promised him a football scholarship. Never mind football, let alone the NFL. Harrison just wanted a degree. Back home in Lake Charles, La., he was the first person in his family to even graduate high school, in 2007.
After an aborted stint at Northwest Mississippi that fall, he stocked shelves at Walmart — a preview of the drudgery required to pay tuition without a scholarship. Then Miller, who recruited him to Northwest Mississippi, called just before the 2008 spring semester began. He offered Harrison a spot at William Penn.
Five years later, Harrison, 24, might start for the Jets in Sunday’s season opener against Tampa Bay. Nose tackle Kenrick Ellis is rehabilitating a back injury, and Harrison is next in line at one of the 3-4 defense’s most important, yet thankless positions, because the nose must handle two offensive linemen. Harrison welcomes this sort of drudgery.

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