The unsung hero of SU's offense

Adam Harris may not score many touchdowns, but the senior has certainly etched his place in Syracuse's offensive scheme this season.

Usually, it wasn’t him scoring touchdowns. Those plays were normally reserved for Antwon Bailey, or one of the other running backs on the roster. Yet here he was, drifting toward the right pylon as the ball lofted out of Ryan Nassib’s hands, no defensive back in sight as he made the catch and fell into the end zone for the first touchdown of his career.

Photo: David Trotman-Wilkins
Thanks in part to Adam Harris' (49) blocking, starting running back Antwon Bailey (29) sits at fourth in the Big East in rushing yards this season.

Normally, that’s not where Adam Harris is found on the football field. He’s the one going after linebackers, safeties and defensive ends while Bailey runs into the open field. Against Louisville (3-4, 1-1 Big East) this weekend, it’s going to be his task to bottle up an aggressive defense that’s coming off a win against Rutgers.

But on that day, that touchdown became a momentous score for the Orange. The toss from Nassib to Harris sparked the comeback for Syracuse (5-2, 1-1 Big East) in the opening victory over Wake Forest. The team went on to win that game, in overtime, 36-29.

For Harris, the touchdown was a major play when his team needed it the most.

“It’s a great energy that goes through you whenever you can help out the team,” Harris said. “It came at a pretty critical time.”

Harris made a lot of those plays as a running back and linebacker for Towanda High School, a smaller high school that serves a northeastern Pennsylvania town close to the New York border. Though Harris was an All-State linebacker and ran for over 1500 yards during his senior season, he did not receive a single FBS offer. Rather than walk-on at a Football Bowl Subdivision school, Harris decided to take the best offer available - at Cornell.

“I was from a small area, so I didn’t get a lot of recruitment,” Harris said. “Cornell was the biggest school that offered me, and at the time, it was the best opportunity I had.”

But things didn’t go as planned during that first season. Harris suffered a concussion on the first snap of his college career. He also would feel that he was missing something, namely, the chance to play at the FBS level.

“Ivy League football is good football,” Harris said of his time with the Cornell Big Red. “But I wanted to play in front of the big crowds, and I wanted to play against the best athletes in the nation.”

With that, Harris left to attend Syracuse University with the chance to play football at the school. Without a scholarship, however, Harris was forced to walk on to the team. He would also not see any playing time during the 2009 season.

But Harris would find his niche on the team. He’d eventually switch over to fullback after starting his Syracuse career as a linebacker. That background would help Harris make the transition to his new position, a less-glorified role that requires physical play.

“It’s definitely a thankless position, but Antwon (Bailey) does a great job of patting you on the back when you need it,” Harris said. “You just have to take pride in what you do, and when Antwon scores, you’ve got to think of it as if you’re scoring.” 

Harris has excelled in that role, though. He’s blocked for one 1000-yard rusher in Delone Carter and could block for another if Bailey continues at his current pace. His ability to block helped Harris receive that scholarship, an emotional moment in his career.

“When coach (Doug) Marrone gave it to me, I kind of broke down a little bit,” Harris said. “It’s something that I’ve always dreamed about since I was a real little kid.”

The ability of Harris has also gained the respect of teammates and coaches. As stated earlier, Harris receives encouragement from Bailey after plays. His position coach, Tyrone Wheatley, is also enthusiastic about the play of the senior.

“His football knowledge is growing astronomically every game, and he loves what he does,” Wheatley said of the fullback. 

These days, Harris seems to be far removed from his original status on the team. He was elected as a team captain on this year’s squad. He was also nominated for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team due to his play on the field and his work with a support program at the Justice Center in Syracuse.

He’s also turned his hometown a shade of Orange.

“They kind of live vicariously through Syracuse football,” Harris said. “Everybody is always keeping track of everything and they just love seeing it.”

Fans of the Orange should get used to the sight of Harris on the field. Despite having senior status, Harris still has another year of eligibility left. If he chooses to play in 2012, it will be his third season in an Orange uniform, and his third season at the FBS level, something that seemed so far away during his senior season of high school.

At least one person on the team knows exactly where he’d like to see Harris next season.

“He still has one more year, and that’s the great thing,” Wheatley said. “I’d love to have him back and coach him another year.”

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