Harris Wants Off the Bike

It was supposed to be the beginning of a storybook ending for Ryan Harris. Harris, a starter since his freshman year, was primed to lead the Irish offensive and offensive line into the early preparations for what he hopes will be a championship season. That was until he found himself on the bike.

The bike is a lonely place if you're a football player. Sure, you're likely to have some company, but said company is in the same boat you're in—no man's land.

A number of Irish players know the bike. Derek Landri spent what seemed like an eternity on the bike early in his career. Rhema McKnight certainly knows it as well after spending almost a year on that cold, hard seat watching his teammates while healing from a knee injury. But the bike is not a place Harris has seen over his career at Notre Dame.

"My frustration is indescribable," said senior Ryan Harris of his inability to practice like the rest of his teammates. "To other people who haven't had this same injury, I worked so hard to be a better player for my teammates and this team, and to really improve aspects of my game. (It's) really been kind of put on hold because of this.

"I'm confident that I'll be able to retain those skills and that they'll be to the utmost that I've practiced and prepared for.

"We have kind of a plan together, but right now it's just day-to-day. We're taking it one day at a time. Every day I feel better and every day I'm healthier. I've been out there every day. I'm still easing into it."

Irish head coach Charlie Weis says he's being cautious with the senior left tackle at this point as he sees no reason to rush Harris back despite his pleas.

"He ran a half hour at left tackle today just against the bags right now," Weis said of Harris. "He's chomping at the bit now, and we really have to keep him from getting out there too fast because we have a plan and he knows what the plan is, but like any other player, all he wants to do is start practicing earlier rather than later."

Despite Weis' comments, Harris confides his prodding is more meant to yank the chain of his head coach. "I think more of it's just jesting him," he said. "We've kind of gone back and forth a bit. He's been very, very…..I can't say enough about how great it's been having him support me, and really be more patient than I. He's been around. He's seen the same injury. He's seen the effects of coming back too soon and too late. He knows better than I do."

With 32 starts under his belt, Harris probably doesn't need a whole lot of time to get ready for the season, but what about getting into that mental state of mind needed to face the nation's best defensive ends every weekend?

"I'm very confident that I know that any play I've been given in games, I know I'll take to the utmost," he said. "Really, it's going to be exciting for me because it's going to be a new beginning. A lot of guys come out of camp with some bruises. A lot of guys may be worn down. I'm coming out fresh and ready to go."

There might be a silver lining in the St. Paul, Minn. native's time spent peddling. The Irish desperately need to develop a right tackle and potential All-American's absence has facilitated the learning curve of a number of players, including freshman Sam Young, who some speculate might end up starting at right tackle.

"Our coach, Coach Latina, has always talked about it gives other guys a chance to compete," Harris said. "It really does give a couple of guys opportunities to see different sides of the ball and really gain an understanding of the offense.

"For me, it gives me the ability to step back and see what I know as a veteran player in terms of keys and defenses and really know I can trust my instincts and go off of that."

And like Harris, the last freshman offensive lineman to start, Young has a lot of potential.

"He applies himself tremendously and definitely comes to work every day," Harris said of Young. "He's got a lot of talent. I think he's going to have a great career here."

The former USA Today first-team All-American will gladly pass the torch to Young after this season, but first he has to get off the bike.

"I'm tired of the bike," he said. "I can't wait to get off."

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