NEW YORK —
He joined the Jets as an undrafted free agent last season. He played in five games, with no starts, and made zero tackles. Ellis’s injury let Harrison start two preseason games, and he demonstrated agility to complement his size (6-4, 350 pounds). Against the Giants, he made seven tackles, all solo — an uncommonly high number for a nose tackle.
“I don’t think I’ve heard of that since Ted Washington,” said Jets coach Rex Ryan, referring to the three-time All-Pro nose tackle who played from 1991 to 2007.
Flattering and premature comparisons aside, Harrison maintains a fear that comes with being an undrafted player — that constant feeling of “if I mess up too bad, I could be gone,” he said. He isn’t going anywhere for now. The Jets need him. Though his fear hasn’t totally dissipated, he is more comfortable. The Giants game, he said, “was really the first time in a long time that I wasn’t scared to mess up.”
Harrison stared at computer screen and started typing. He was in his high school’s library, because he didn’t have a computer at home. He lived in a house project apartment with his mother and two siblings. His mom worked two jobs to keep the family afloat.
Harrison wrote a dozen emails to college football coaches, “pleading” with them for an opportunity, he said. Two replied. Harrison responded and heard back from one, Miller, an assistant coach. He liked Harrison’s size, 6-2 and 250 pounds, and that he played point guard on his high school basketball team. But Miller wanted to see more football footage.
“Where’s your junior film?” he asked Harrison.
Harrison explained he played one year of football, as a senior. Miller still offered one of Northwest Mississippi’s eight spots for out-of-state players. Then Miller took another job before the season, and Northwest Mississippi’s staff had a chance to land a major conference lineman who hadn’t academically qualified. Harrison, a project who didn’t know a thing about gap assignments, was bumped off the roster for his first season.