AMES, IOWA — Jordan Harris doesn’t hesitate, and that goes for both his play these days from his middle linebacker position and his response when he’s asked if he would go through it all again to wind up where he is now.
Where Harris is now, in his second spring at Iowa State, is atop the team’s depth chart at middle linebacker. It took longer than he would have liked to end up here, but in the end maybe waiting will pay dividends for both he and Iowa State.
“It was worth it,” Harris said, without that hesitation, as spring ball nears its finish. “If I could go back and do it again I would have redshirted.”
The plan for Harris when he arrived at Iowa State in Ames from Copiah Lincoln C.C. in Mississippi just more than one year ago as a mid-year JUCO transfer was to help transform the Cyclones’ linebacker unit.
He had the size at 6-feet and the weight at 244 pounds. He led the NJCAA in tackles before transferring and was a JUCO All-American. He was a physical specimen who defensive coordinator Wally Burnham would later say could “splatter” opponents. Those things certainly added up to Big 12 linebacker.
Problem was, Harris wasn’t ready.
Harris might have looked the part, but he needed more than that. During his initial spring he struggled to fully grasp Iowa State’s defensive schemes, especially ones pertaining to the pass game. While he could rely on his physical ability in junior college, it was clear early that wouldn’t be the case in the Big 12.
“Physically I think I was [ready], but as far as the mental aspect and how fast the game was, I don’t think I was ready,” Harris said. “I learned about the offensive schemes and the details any linebacker has to pay attention to. You can’t just be out there running to the football, you have to have a purpose.”
By the time fall rolled around last season, coaches had made the decision to redshirt Harris, who had arrived at Iowa State with three years to play two. It wasn’t that Harris couldn’t play, but coaches knew he wouldn’t play linebacker and didn’t want to waste a year of eligibly for special teams.
Harris learned his fate, and frustration set in.
Knowing he wouldn’t play during the 2014 season, Harris began to study. He sat next to Jevohn Miller and Levi Peters during film sessions. He was frustrated, sure, but was reminded by his teammates that the coaches had a plan.
“You didn’t come this far for nothing,” Miller would remind him.
“I just always took that and ran with it,” Harris said.
Then, things began to click.
By the second week of the season, as Iowa State prepared for Kansas State, Harris began to study. He knew he wasn’t going to play, so he made the attempt to begin to learn. He had the physical traits. Now he needed to become a student of the game in his year off.
“In junior college you can just fly around to the football and make 14, 15 tackles a game,” Harris said. “Here you have to do your job, because if you’re not doing your job it could be a touchdown for the offense. You’ve just got to be in the right spot. The tackles will come as long as you’re in the right spot.”
In the time since the end of last season and the onset of spring ball, Harris was a frequent visitor to the film room at the Bergstrom Football Complex. He would grab Burnham and the two would watch film.
“I just listen to whatever he says, because he’s been around the game so long he knows all about the linebacker position and how you play it,” Harris said. “I just take everything in that Wally tells me.”
The transformation of Harris this spring has been evident. After beginning the spring as the No. 2 middle linebacker, Harris quickly showed he was a new player and vaulted to the top of the depth chart.
Disappointment and frustration has turned into a blessing.
“It was disappointing [last spring],” Burnham said. “Now, in hindsight, I’m glad it turned out that way, because he’s ready now and he’s got two years.”
Now, there is a new Jordan Harris in the middle.
“I’m playing faster, way faster,” Harris said. “I just want to show them that I’m a way better player than I was last year.”