Harris Is Hungry For Playing Time

FAYETTEVILLE — Matt Harris' summer wasn't nearly as enjoyable as it could have been. But at least he never went to bed at night hungry.

After spending his first two years at Arkansas as an undersized safety who saw no playing time, Harris was determined to pack as many pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame as possible.

That meant he had to eat and eat and eat.

The sophomore would set his alarm so he could wake up at 7 a.m. every morning and make himself a huge breakfast that sounded like it was straight off the Waffle House menu. It included eggs, bacon, waffles and lots of calories.

He also snacked in between meals, ate steak and consumed anything else that was available. He'd eat 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day and then head to Arkansas' weight room to build muscle.

"I lived in the weight room. I practically had a blanket and pillow in the weight room this summer," Harris said. "I got over 200 pounds, and I felt solid."

Harris lost some of the 25 pounds he's put on since arriving at Arkansas in 2005 because of a stomach virus suffered earlier this summer.

Still, the strong safety has made a much bigger impression over the first two weeks of preseason practice than he did in years past.

The sophomore, whose father is former NFL All-Pro safety Cliff Harris, has recorded an interception in each of Arkansas' two preseason scrimmages.

Harris intercepted an Austin Tucker pass on Saturday night, and a week earlier, the safety had perhaps the biggest highlight of the first scrimmage when he jumped up to get his hands on a Casey Dick pass.

"I've been waiting my turn, and I've been doing my job just waiting for it," said Harris, whose uncle Tommy Harris was a defensive back at Arkansas from 1972-75.

"It does feel good when it comes along. You can kind of feel in your gut (when) your competitive nature kicks in and you say, ‘I'm close. It's about my time.'"

While senior Matt Hewitt has the starting strong safety job locked down, Harris has made a legitimate case for playing time this season.

He entered preseason camp as the backup strong safety, and he's shown potential while working with the second-team defense in practice and in the scrimmages.

"He's doing OK. The thing we're trying to get across to him is that it's not what you did yesterday, it's what you do today," Arkansas safeties coach Chris Vaughn said.

"(We) just want Matt to be consistent because he could help this football team."

There was a time, though, that Harris wasn't even sure if he'd see the field for the Razorbacks.

Last August, Harris thought he could get some playing time as a redshirt freshman. But any hope he had seemingly came to an end when he suffered an ankle injury on the first day of two-a-days.

Down, Harris said he called his father and told him that he didn't think he'd be able to make it at Arkansas.

His father — who went from being an undrafted free agent to a six-time Pro Bowl safety who appeared in five Super Bowls in the 1970s — told his son to stick it out. Arkansas' coaches were just testing him.

"When I came in here as a true freshman, I was 6-2, 170 (pounds), maybe. And I came in here thinking I'm going to start right away," Harris said. "I've had that attitude since '05 that I was going to start. You've got to have that attitude."

At least early on, Harris has shown he could add depth to the safety position. It appears the big summer breakfasts have paid off, though he could still use a few more of them.

"He's matured a bunch since he's got here, and there is no doubt in my mind that football is important to him," Vaughn said. "Now it's just how important is it to him, how hard am I willing to fight to go play."

Matt Harris

Age: 20

Size: 6-foot-2, 192 pounds

Class: Sophomore

Hometown: Richardson, Texas

Notable: Harris is the son of former Dallas Cowboys All-Pro safety Cliff Harris. His father is a Fayetteville native who appeared in five Super Bowls in the 1970s. Tommy Harris, Matt Harris' uncle, was a defensive back at Arkansas from 1972-75. The sophomore has not appeared in a game during his first two seasons with the Razorbacks, but he entered the preseason listed as the second-team strong safety.

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