Defensive tackle Juan Harris announced his top five schools yesterday and Indiana was one of the programs to make the cut. Peegs.com spoke with the 6-foot-4, 365-pound standout from Parker H.S. in Janesville, Wisconsin about why the Hoosiers are a school that he is so high on.
Harris currently has offers from Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Alabama, Iowa State, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vanderbilt, Virginia and Tulane. The big defensive lineman has narrowed his list of schools down to a final five of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota and Penn State. IU made the cut because of the bond he has developed with assistant coach Mark Hagen.
“My relationship with Coach Hagen goes really deep,” Harris said. “I have known him for a couple years now and we have a good relationship. He started recruiting me when he was down at Texas A&M. He has let me know that I am a player that he really likes, and he thinks I can come in there and play as a freshman for him. When I talk to him we don’t really talk about football much. He understands my life story, which is pretty unique. So we don’t talk about football all that much, but when we do he lets me know that he thinks I can be a game changer for their defense. Indiana is really known for their offense, but defensively they struggled a little bit and he thinks I can come in and help right away.”
The life story that Harris is referring to is a difficult one that has seen him bounce from home to home, while also losing his father to gun violence last November.
“I am not someone that has been fortunate enough to do some of the things that other guys have been able to do like going to visit other schools,” Harris said. “I grew up struggling all my life. I grew up sleeping on floors. I started my freshman year at Notre Dame College Prep (in Niles, Illinois). I stayed with my grandmother then and I had to sleep on the floor. It was tough so I ended up moving to Wisconsin the second semester of my freshman year and I stayed with my mother for a little bit but it was just a crowded living situation. We were okay financially but there were eight of us living in a two-bedroom apartment so it was pretty crowded. Around this time my father was getting out of prison and he got his own house and he got a room for me so I moved in with him (in Iowa). When I got there I had to sit out my sophomore year because of eligibility rules, and then things got tougher and tougher because my father was making decisions that he shouldn’t have been making. Things really got tough towards the end of my sophomore year so I was going to move back with my mother but if I did that I was going to be ineligible so ended up staying with my head coach my junior year. Things were going good with my coach but I just felt I needed to be with my mother, especially after I lost my father. He was shot in Chicago this past November and with me losing my father I thought it was best if I moved back in with my mother. So I ended up going back to Janesville, Wisconsin to be with my mom, and now she is doing better financially and we are going to move into a bigger house.”
The talented prospect said that all throughout this time Coach Hagen has been someone he could talk to about anything and he was someone that always tried to be there for him.
“Talking to Coach Hagen, he understands what struggling is and he understood what I was going through at the time, so our relationship is just bigger than football,” Harris said about the IU assistant. “It is more like a close friend and someone who was there for me during a tough situation. He was always there for me and our bond is really strong.”
Not only has Harris overcome the adversity he had in his home life, he has also made significant strides both as a player with his conditioning and as a student with his grades.
“My freshman and sophomore year I struggled with my grades and that is why a lot of schools did not offer me,” he said. “But right now my grades are up as I have a 2.9 core GPA and a 3.2 cumulative GPA and I scored a 19 on the ACT so I am better now academically. I have also improved my conditioning. I dropped a bunch of weight. I was up to around 420 and now I’m down to 365 so I was able to show a lot of discipline and character.”
Harris originally committed to Iowa but he decommitted because he knew he wanted to check out other schools and he didn’t think it would be right to do that if he was committed somewhere else.
“After I committed to Iowa I picked up some new offers and I felt it would be very disrespectful to Iowa if I went and visited other schools while still being committed to them,” he said. “That’s like being married but you want to go check out other women and go on dates. That’s how I kind of looked at it and I didn’t want to disrespect Iowa and I felt it would’ve been wrong to do so.”
As he goes through the recruiting process again the Wisconsin native said he is focused on finding a school where he feels comfortable as both an athlete and a student.
“I am looking for a great relationship with the coaches and all the schools in my top five are places where I have a great relationship with the coaches,” Harris said. “After that it is going to come down to where do I fit in the best and where do I feel the most comfortable at. I’m not big on facilities because facilities aren’t anything but materials. They only last so long and they are only going to factor for so long. For me it is more about where do I fit in.”
Harris has yet to make a trip to Bloomington but he knows that if he did end up at IU he would receive a quality education.
“I haven’t visited Indiana yet but I know academically it would mean something to get a degree from there,” he said. “That is something I want when I leave college, a meaningful degree. I want a degree that will help me carry on outside of football. I want to major in business management.”
Harris is not exactly sure when he will make his decision, but before he does commit somewhere he wants to visit the Hoosiers and get a closer look at the program.
“I will be visiting them but I just don’t know when it will be,” he said about visiting IU. “But I do want to get down there to see what they are all about.”
The Parker H.S. standout said it means so much to him knowing he is close to being a college student, and he understands that football is what opened the door to that opportunity.
“It hits me pretty hard sometimes because if it wasn’t for football I wouldn’t be able to go to college,” he said when asked what this opportunity means to him. “Financially my family couldn’t do it. Football has really opened some doors for me as far as giving me the opportunity to get a college degree. I am very fortunate to have this opportunity and it hits me hard because I know I have the chance to help my family outside of football with a degree. I am just very blessed to have the opportunity to choose what school I want to go to and get a free college degree.”