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Dudley Dawson's commentary:CHATHAM, Va. - It's going to be a little bit different national signing date this time around for former Little Rock Mills gridiron star Marcus Harrison.
The 6-4, 300-pound defensive tackle with 4.9 speed in the 40-yard dash will sign with the University of Arkansas football program this morning for the second time in as many years.
He was dressed quite dapperly at this time last season at Mills High when he and teammate Farod Jackson inked scholarships with the Razorbacks.
The pair had parents, friends, coaches and teammates around them for the signing ceremony and there was quite a bit of fanfare associated with the day.
But this morning, Harrison will get up, put on a very large uniform and march - literally - to breakfast, attend class and then get together with some 30 other players to sign their scholarships in the gym at Hargrave Military Academy at around 9 p.m. central time.
That 30 is just about the number Arkansas is going to sign as well.
"It's going to be very different," Harrison said. "Last year when Farod and I signed, we were all dressed up and somebody even voted us the best dressers in the signing class. But I will be in a military uniform this year and we'll get around to signing after marching. It will just be the coaches and the players. Then we'll march back to class and that will be that."
Harrison, expected to contribute immediately next season on the UA's defensive line, will join offensive lineman Jeremy Palmoore (6-6, 310) as Hargrave products signing with the Razorbacks again today.
Palmoore actually took an official visit to Virginia last weekend, but that's nothing to worry about according to Harrison.
"Hey, the only way we can leave for the weekend is if we go on official visits," Harrison said. "He just wanted to get out of here for the weekend. It's gets tough being around here with nothing going on."
Arkansas actually placed four players at Hargrave - a school that prides itself on discipline and excellence in academics and athletics - this season but will be signing only two of them today.
Defensive end Rodney Giles got sidetracked by the NCAA Clearing House when some classes he took at an alternative school in Hot Springs got turned down and is now at Northeastern Oklahoma Junior College.
Offensive lineman Duston "Big Tex" Moore was also expected to resign with Razorbacks, but Big Tex got up to 420 pounds and Arkansas cut ties.
"I wish we could have all come up there together, but it's just not going to work out that way," Harrison said. "I do have a new buddy down here that's coming to Fayetteville, though."
That would be 6-10, 235-pound Darian Townes, who has signed with the Razorback basketball program. The former Georgetown signee who detoured to Hargrave had 12 points, 12 rebounds and 13 blocks in road game on Friday and 21 points, 11 rebounds and 9 blocks in a home win Saturday with Harrison looking on.
"He can play," Harrison said. "He's the real deal. He doesn't let anything go up easy in the lane. The only problem with him is he asks for my Arkansas stuff like newspapers and the Hawgs Illustrateds I brought down here to read and then I never get them back."
Both of these young men - one from Washington D.C. and the other from Little Rock - admit that adjusting to the rural life of Chatham has been tough.
"It's been fun at times, but it also been tough at times mentally," Harrison said. "But that's what I needed in order to go up to Fayetteville and be the best student and the best football player I could be."
Townes, averaging 12 points, 10 rebounds and 7 blocks per game in playing what is an average of a little over a half a game for the nation's No. 1 prep team, concurs.
"In the beginning, when I first got to Hargrave, it was tough," Townes said. "It was starting out in a new environment with nothing around, no big city, no cars, no nothing – it is just me and the trees. It was tough, but as the months have gone by I've gotten used to it and it has kind of changed me to where I really enjoy the peace and quiet."
Because of a wealth of defensive linemen and the shortage of offensive lineman at Hargrave, Harrison made the jump over to guard during the year for head coach Robert Prunty.
"He turned out to be our best lineman over the course of the whole season, grading out over 90 percent in every game," Prunty said. "He just blocks and blocks and blocks and doesn't stop. He is not only a great run blocker, but a great pass one as well. He just has great leverage and uses it to his advantage.
"Marcus could be a hit on either side of the ball up there at Arkansas," Prunty added. "It will just be where they need him the most."
Harrison, who originally turned down Oklahoma and Tennessee to sign with Arkansas the first time, said he didn't mind because he got to crush people either way in what turned into an 8-1 season against other prep schools and major college junior varsity squads.
"I just stepped up to help out the team out," Harrison said. "If you play it right, you can lay some people out on offense. But hey, I'd rather do it on defense and that's what Arkansas has planned for me."
In fact, Harrison has been told he is no redshirt candidate by Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt and defensive line coach Tracy Rocker.
"Coach Houston and Coach Rocker told me they want me to play right away and they need be to play right away," Harrison said. "I am going to be there for them and be ready to go for them." After he signed last year, Nutt said about Harrison that "He's what defensive tackles are supposed to look like."
Harrison longs to be back in Arkansas and rejoined Jackson, who is expected to see significant time at fullback next season.
"I don't like snow and it snows here all the time," Harrison said. "And there is all these long bus rides and going through all these towns when we go to play West Virginia or Virginia Tech.
"It is okay down here," Harrison added, "but I am ready to come home," Harrison said. "I want to come back to the great state of Arkansas."
Palmoore may have a redshirt put on him to get stronger, but Prunty thinks he is going to be a good one as well.
"He needs to get in the weight room some more, but he has all the tools to be what an great offensive lineman is suppose to be," Punty said. "He is very intelligent, knows what he is supposed to do and gets it done. The best thing about him is that he wants to be good and works very hard every day to get better."
Harrison has been doing his part in the recruiting process, working on Little Rock Central defensive tackle Fred Bledsoe (6-5, 295), who will announce his decision today after fellow Little Rock recruit Marc Winston pledged to be a Razorback on Tuesday.
"I called Fred while I was home for Christmas and he answered and I said "Dawg, you need to be a Hawg," Harrison said. "It turned out to be his daddy (Fred Bledsoe, Sr.) and he laughed. Then Fred got on and I told him what he needs to do. We've always been close, but he needs to come to Arkansas or we will have to be against each other I guess."
Harrison said schools such as North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia, Oklahoma State and Tennessee all tried to get him away from Arkansas while he's been at Hargrave.
"The same guy (Caldwell) that was recruiting me for Tennessee last year came down here and told me I need to change my mind and come to Tennessee," Harrison added, "but I told them 'no I am a Razorback and you probably aren't going to get Fred either.'"
Harrison makes it clear that he is a Razorback through and through and can't figure why anybody else would not want to be one.
"I want to win big and I want to win big with the best in-state players Arkansas has to offer," Harrison said. "I don't want to go face a team where somebody has left the state. That's not right. We all need to be Razorbacks. There is no real reason to leave."