Al Harris Jr. ready to compete for role at cornerback

Special to GoGamecocksJune 9, 2014 

Al Harris Jr. and St. Thomas Aquinas coach Rocco Casullo

DAVID FURONES — Special to GoGamecocks

Incoming South Carolina freshman cornerback Al Harris Jr. has been around football all his life as the son of two-time NFL All-Pro Al Harris Sr.

Now Harris Jr. looks to start a legacy of his own, arriving in Columbia at the end of May to enroll in classes and begin participating in the Gamecocks’ offseason strength and condition programming.

With competition at corner wide open heading into next season, the consensus three-star prospect out of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas believes he can make a serious run at a starting job.

“That’s my goal, and I believe if I work hard and stay focused I can definitely achieve that,” he says.

He’s excited to turn the page on his career — and also in life.

“It’s a new step in my life,” he says. “I get to be my own man, make my own decisions, and I just have to remember what my parents taught me and get my priorities in line. I think it’ll be a great experience.”

Harris Jr. only played three games in his senior season because of a hamstring injury. Ruled out for the season when it happened, he moved to Stilwell, Kan., to live with his father, who is currently defensive backs coach for the Kansas City Chiefs.

He said on National Signing Day that his hamstring was back at 100 percent and says that’s still the case as he arrives at USC. Since recovering entirely, he’s been able to return to football-related activity with his father, as opposed to simply regaining strength in the lower body.

“It’s been a blessing being able to train with my dad because he’s taught me since I learned how to play football,” Harris Jr. says. “He’s allowed me to be able to get back to the basics, work on my craft and work with the strength and conditioning coach from the Chiefs, which was a tremendous help for me in the weight room and conditioning.”

Harris Jr. currently weighs 167 pounds after playing at 160 his senior season. He hopes to reach 175 in time for the season.

South Carolina coaches wanted him to come in early to learn the playbook and prepare himself for fall camp physically in the weight room.

“I believe not only me, but all the guys that are coming — they want us all to be able to get a head start and get a grasp of college, get a grasp of the defense,” Harris Jr. says. “I think that’ll give us a curve, being a true freshman, so we can get caught up with everyone else.”

Chris Lammons, also from Broward County in South Florida and nearby Plantation High, will be roommates with Harris Jr. when he arrives for the second session on June 28.

“I’m really excited to get together with him,” Harris Jr. says. “We’ve built a relationship over the past few months.”

With a month head-start on Lammons, Harris Jr. says he’ll help him with anything he needs but doesn’t think Lammons will need much help.

“With any tips or advice he wants, I’m always open to that and to help him with it, but I think he’s a very level, strong-headed guy, and I’m going to be communicating with him throughout the month and I know he’s going to be communicating with [defensive backs coach Grady] Brown.”

On what Harris Jr. can improve on as he enters college, he lists tackling, press coverage, off-man coverage, and just being a more patient, relaxed player.

Harris Jr. will be competing against the other incoming defensive backs for a starting spot, but he doesn’t see it as trying to beat them out.

“I see every single one of them as teammates. I want everyone to build that bond,” he says. “How I like to look at it is, I’m not competing against any one of those guys. I’m competing against myself, and I’m trying to get the most out of myself and show what I can do because at the end of the day, I guard receivers. I don’t guard other cornerbacks.”

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