He's flying a little under the radar right now but that's not always going to be the case for Tampa Catholic two-way standout T.J. Harrell. In fact, schools have already taken notice but he's not a name that you hear that much about when it comes to recruiting.
Harris, 6-foot-1 and 205-pounds, runs a 10.8 100 meters. He's well-built and could play on either side of the ball at the next level at outside linebacker and running back.
"Let me tell you that this kid is something special. He just gets it and has a chance to be an elite guy," said Bob Henriquez, Tampa Catholic's coach. "He started at linebacker as a freshman for us and started playing running back out of necessity."
The transition to offense appeared to be an easy one for Harrell but that side of the ball comes a little harder for him.
"I am so much more comfortable on defense," Harrell said. "I know the defense and all the positions. I have played outside linebacker and this year I am all over the place. I can line up at linebacker, defensive end and even cornerback or safety. I can play in the middle or on the outside. I am really turning into a hybrid guy. I wouldn't say that offense is a struggle for me but I am just not as comfortable because I just started playing on that side of the ball. But I do what I can."
How good is Harrell on offense? So good that Henriquez spent some time at nearby Tampa Plant to pick the brains of the Panthers staff on how they used James Wilder a few seasons ago when he starred at running back and defensive end for them.
"We spent some time at [Tampa] Plant and talked with them about how they used [James] Wilder," Henriquez said. "He's that kind of kid. He's that kind of impact player."
Some schools already knew Harrell. Would you believe that UCLA was the first BCS offer for him? That came over the spring and as you can imagine that surprised Harrell.
"I didn't even know at the time that they even knew about me," Harrell said. "One of their coaches was here in Tampa and was looking at different linebackers in the area. He found me on some list and watched my film. The next thing I know is he calls my coach and I ended up calling them and they offered. I talked with coach [Jim] Mora.
"That surprised the heck out of me. I love coach Mora. He talked strictly about my future as a player and as a student. He has a lot of wisdom and I really like him a lot."
"There are a bunch of other schools that are showing a lot of interest like Cal, Notre Dame, Indiana, Mississippi State, Clemson and Michigan. There are more but I can't remember them all. I am talking with a ton of schools and they are all Facebooking me. I wish I could be more into recruiting but I am focused on school and my team. We have a special team and a chance to do something big this season so that's where my focus is at. But when I can, I do talk with coaches and I have been to some games."
"The Gators are showing me mad love right now," Harrell said. "Hunter [Joyner] and Chaz [Green] are up there and they love it. They are from my school and they are all over me. I have a cousin that plays for them to. His name is Jaylen Watkins. I was born in Tampa but my family is from the Ft. Myers area. So I am cousins with him and Sammy [Watkins].
Harrell doesn't claim any school favorites at this point. He knows that it's early for that. For now, he wants to keep the focus and keep on winning. His Tampa Catholic team is unbeaten and primed for a big season. So is Harrell. He has 30 plus tackles, three sacks, an interception, three blocked punts and has scored six touchdowns in four games this season.
Harrell credits much of his success, especially on defense, to two coaches – Richard "Batman" Wood and David Lewis. They were both very good NFL linebackers who played alongside Leroy Selmon and a great Tampa defense back in the day for the Buccaneers.
"You want to talk about old school," Harrell said. "Those two are it. They are my defensive coaches and they are great. They are rough and nasty and they coach like that. They have taught me so much and a big reason I am where I am today."