"Solid" Harrison matures into team leader

ATHENS -- With all the focus on Georgia's injuries this season and the players who have stepped up to fill the voids, junior linebacker Arnold Harrison has gotten hardly any notice at all.

Two years ago, Arnold Harrison's coaches and teammates would never have guessed he would grow into such a steady presence that he could avoid attention.

"You talk about a guy who has grown in a couple years time. He has grown tremendously," Coach Mark Richt said. "He just had a temper. He would get so mad he couldn't see straight sometimes."

The high point of Harrison's rage, and the low point of his collegiate career, came when he was ejected from the 2001 Georgia Tech game for throwing a punch at a Yellow Jacket. It wasn't out of character for the Harrison of two seasons ago. He battled teammates on the practice field and himself seemingly all the time.

"He'll admit it, most of (his problems) were maturity issues," defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said. "He had trouble controlling himself."

As a three-year starter and all-state player at Josey High School in Augusta, Harrison was the same way, but "I was always making good plays so when I got excited nobody really minded too much," he said.

At Georgia, though, it became a problem. When Harrison made a mistake, he fumed and more mistakes followed. Harrison's mood was more suited to defensive end, where a fire in your gut is more important than a clear head.

"If you lose your head, you can't play linebacker," Richt said.

Georgia's coaches considered a position change, but at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Harrison was too small. Instead of getting bigger, he got calmer. It all started in Atlanta as he was ushered out of Grant Field.

"It was real up in the air to where my career was going to go," he said. "At that point, I felt like it was time for a change. I learned that there are times when you feel like popping off that if you sit back and think, maybe the next play you'll make a good play," he said. "It's the difference between being fired up and too fired up."

"You live and you learn over time."

The change has been all encompassing. Harrison has gone from a player his teammates avoided -- "He just seemed like he was always in a bad mood out there," Richt said. -- to the one they all turn to for advice. Harrison knows Georgia's defensive scheme better than any of the Bulldogs' linebackers, VanGorder said.

"He's an intellectual football player," defensive end David Pollack said. "His attitude is 180 degrees turned around."

"When coach asks a question, if no one else knows the answer, you can always ask Arnold," said part-time linebacker Thomas Davis.

Harrison is filling the strongside linebacker spot intended for Davis in the preseason. Harrison was projected as a backup entering the season, but an injury to Kentrell Curry forced Davis back to safety and opened the door for Harrison, who has 26 tackles, three pass breakups and a caused fumble this season.

Richt said VanGorder describes Harrison's performance each week in staff meetings as "solid," which in VanGorder's language is high praise. It's also near miraculous considering the Arnold Harrison of two years ago would have been described as anything but.

"Arnold's grown up so much," VanGorder said. "He's just outstanding now."

"I'm headed in the right direction, I guess," Harrison said.

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