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He Shows That Speed Thrills

Senior Cary Harris of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame uses his quickness to run down opponents.

September 07, 2004|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

The father of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame defensive back Cary Harris concluded long ago that his son would one day possess quick feet, considering family life sometimes resembled a scene from Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.

"When he did something wrong, he'd run through the house and I couldn't catch him," Cary Harris Sr. said.

Through the living room, the hallway, the kitchen, Harris would scamper, eluding and outmaneuvering his father, a former football player at Los Angeles Crenshaw.

Harris has grown to 6 feet 1 and 175 pounds, and his speed, combined with his exceptional tackling ability, make him one of the most sought-after college prospects on the West Coast.

"He's a tough, physical kid who likes to come up and make hits," Coach Kevin Rooney said.

Although cornerback is the position he probably will play in college, Harris also excels as a tailback. Last season, he rushed for 1,129 yards and scored 17 touchdowns in helping Notre Dame win its second consecutive Southern Section Division III championship.

Harris is in his 12th year of playing tackle football, having started as a 6-year-old. He remembers starting out as a third-string offensive lineman and being used as a "tackling dummy" by the bigger 8-year-olds.

"I was getting knocked over, and that's when I started to hit," he said. "It's better to give the blow instead of taking it. I remember not wanting to go to practice, then I started to get the hang of it and fell in love."

His speed was evident during the track season, when he ran 100 meters in a hand-timed 10.5 seconds and was one of the top sprinters in the Mission League.

Speed is one of the most desired skills in football. There's no simple strategy for trying to deal with a player who's usually the fastest on the field.

Even if Harris makes a mistake in judgment, speed can help him overcome the error. Receivers who might initially believe they have him beat are left frustrated when he recovers to knock the ball loose.

As a cornerback, he thrives on engaging in a one-on-one duel with the receiver.

"Once you see the quarterback drop, keep your eye on the receiver," he said.

He likes to switch up his coverage strategy, from bumping and impeding the receiver on the initial snap to giving him some room. Since Notre Dame plays lots of zone coverage, Harris must be prepared to guard a specific area and anticipate where the ball could be thrown.

There's no doubt about his hitting ability. He forced several fumbles last season with his explosiveness in reaching ballcarriers.

"I love to hit," he said.

Harris' reputation as a top prospect figures to serve as motivation for opponents trying to test themselves to see how they match up against the best. Harris welcomes the competition.

"Oh man, I love the challenge," he said. "I like it when people push me. It makes me better."

For weeks, Harris has been facing the pressure of college recruiting.

"This is what I wanted," he said. "This is my dream. I'm so happy and so blessed. Not many get the opportunity to be recruited. It's hectic because there are so many good schools. You're trying to see what fits you the best."

Harris relieved some of the recruiting pressure by working at his high school's summer day camp for children, serving as a chef. He'd put on a hat and gloves and barbecue hot dogs and hamburgers.

If only playing football were as simple as barbecuing a hot dog, Harris wouldn't have a worry in the world. But he knows talent alone doesn't translate into success.

"How big you are and strength comes into play, but it's how big your heart is," he said. "I know if I go 110% every time, it's bound to pay off in the end."

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