USC likes Harris in a "Norwood role"

Over the next few weeks, GamecockAnthem will be bringing you a series of in-depth interviews with Carolina's incoming 2011 signees. In the third installment of this can't-miss series, Anthem talks one-on-one with versatile defensive signee Mason Harris, who the Gamecock coaches have compared to a young Eric Norwood. Read inside for all the scoop on Harris, who is now officially enrolled at USC.

Interview with 2011 defensive signee M. Harris: profile: Mason Harris

Question: When did you first start playing football, and when exactly did you realize that you wanted to pursue a future in football?

Harris: I started when I was five, playing full-contact when you're not supposed to. I always played it growing up, and I liked it. Then when I hit high school, I realized football was going to be my only way to get to college and pay for college. Once I hit ninth grade, Nigel Nicholas, who plays at Oklahoma State now, he played at my school, and I looked up to him. I wanted to go off to a big school to play football. I would say ninth grade is when it hit me that I really wanted to go play football in college.

Question: Was that a dream come true when the scholarship offers started coming in for you the summer before your senior year?

Harris: Yeah, it was. Even in tenth and eleventh grade, I didn't know for a fact that I would be able to go play college ball even though I wanted to. It was really cool to get those offers.

Question: How would you describe yourself as a defensive player? What all do you bring to the table on the football field?

Harris: I bring speed and a lot of quickness. I think I'm always going to keep my speed. Once I put on twenty or thirty pounds, it's going to be hard to pass against me. What I bring to the field is the pass rush. I use my hands really well, and I've got a pretty good motor. I bring intensity, and once I get comfortable around the guys I'll become a leader. My speed is my best attribute on the field though.

Question: You mentioned that speed is one of your biggest strengths. Have you been timed in the forty yard dash?

Harris: Yeah, I ran a 4.4 at South Carolina. That was my fastest time. I usually run a 4.5, but I ran a 4.4 there.

Question: What areas would you like to improve in as a football player?

Harris: My strength, my weight, and definitely my size. I want to be able to play defensive end. This year (the South Carolina coaches) are telling me I'll be able to play third downs for pass rushing, but for my size right now I just can't be a first down guy. I would like to improve my size, my strength, and then getting to the ball quicker, which I'll do in college.

What is your accurate height and weight these days?

Harris: I'm 6-3, and I weigh 212.

Question: Is there any player that you tend to model your game after on the football field?

Harris: My favorite player is (Baltimore Ravens linebacker) Ray Lewis, but we play different positions. I think I'm going to end up playing some linebacker in college, but he's a guy I really just like to watch. I like how he plays, and I like (Denver Broncos safety) Brian Dawkins. He plays a whole different position, but I like the way they're both intense and how they are leaders on the field. I definitely try to bring that same intensity on the field.

Question: You have the reputation of being an extremely versatile football player. Can you talk about the versatility you bring to the field with your athleticism?

Harris: I'm one of those players, I honestly think I could play any position. I could play defensive back if I worked on my feet a little bit and my hips. I'm pretty fast. I read plays really well. A lot of college coaches told me that's why they wanted me. I could play defensive end, I could play linebacker, and if I needed to I could even play defensive back. I think I could play anywhere on the offensive side too. I played running back my whole life until high school. I could play wide receiver. I even played some offensive line in high school.

Question: With your versatility, how have the South Carolina coaches said that they plan to use your talents this year?

Harris: This is the plan - Hopefully this summer I'll put on fifteen or twenty pounds, and if I can do that then I'll end up playing in Eric Norwood's role. I can play linebacker the first two downs, and then on third down I can put my hand down and pass rush. That's what they're looking at me for. Every time I go up there, they call me Eric Norwood.

Question: How familiar were you with Eric Norwood before the USC coaches started making that comparison with you?

Harris: I know he was the best defensive player on their team when he was there. I remember watching him, and he broke the record for sacking the quarterback. He was a great ball player.

Question: Gearing up for the jump to the college level, what does a typical day consist of for you workout-wise?

Harris: (USC) sent me a workout plan, and I've been working out a lot. During basketball season, I lost, no joke, about fifteen to twenty pounds. Since then, I've been working out a lot. I've been preparing to hit it hard at USC, running and lifting a lot. I know I'm about to go into an atmosphere where everyone is as good as me. I can't slack off or I'm gonna get beat.

Question: Looking back on the recruiting process, many recruits have said going through that process is a once in a lifetime experience. Now that you've gone through that, what stands out the most to you about your recruitment?

Harris: It's pretty crazy. Especially around here, once people figure out you're going to a school like South Carolina, they all want your picture or autograph. As far as the recruiting goes, it was awesome to be able to go visit colleges, especially when a coach like Steve Spurrier comes up to you and knows your name. He also did an in-home visit, which was pretty awesome. I took a visit to Miami as well, and it's great to have everything paid for. You hang out with football players and have fun and meet people. It was a once in a lifetime experience, no doubt.

Question: You ultimately ended up signing with South Carolina, but what were the other main schools that you were focused on during your recruitment?

Harris: I picked between South Carolina and Miami. Those were the hardest ones to pick between. I also had an offer from Kentucky and a lot of smaller schools.

Question: You mentioned the late visit that you took to Miami. How close were you to potentially changing your commitment to the Hurricanes?

Harris: It was hard, man. It was very close. My recruiter from Miami, I liked him so much that I started second guessing that maybe I wanted to go to Miami. He was coming up here to see me a lot, and then after I went down there to visit Miami, it was a great atmosphere. But I realized when I got back home (from the Miami visit) where I wanted to go to school.

Question: What made the difference for you when deciding on South Carolina over Miami?

Harris: It was just how close it was and then the chance to play in the SEC. The atmosphere of playing in SEC games compared to ACC games, that was a big difference. Plus, my parents will be able to come see me at South Carolina. Coach Spurrier is obviously a great coach there. I put all of that into perspective. Me and my roommate (K.J. Brent), we're like best friends now. We've built a really good relationship. The Miami coaches told me that whatever school I pick, just make sure I don't have any regrets. When I picked South Carolina, I didn't have any regrets. That's where I want to be.

Question: You mentioned the friendship that you've built with K.J. Brent. How did you two become such good friends, with him being from North Carolina and you being from Georgia?

Harris: He was the first guy to commit to South Carolina, and I was like the third. We met on Facebook, and then every day we just started hollering at each other. We hung out at all of the football games, and then on our official visit we hung out. We just got to be good friends. Our parents are really good friends with each other now too. You would think that we've known each other for a really long time.

Question: Did you get to know many of the other Gamecock signees pretty well through the recruiting process?

Harris: I know Kyle Harris pretty well. We text a little. I also know Kadetrix Marcus from Stone Mountain. It's pretty crazy. Me and him, ever since eighth or ninth grade, we've always gone to the same combines. He's always won them too. He's always been really good, and I feel like I'm the reason why he chose South Carolina. I talked him into it. He was looking at Auburn, but every day I texted him about going to South Carolina.

Question: Can you talk about your relationship with Coach G.A. Mangus, who recruited you for the Gamecocks?

Harris: We became best friends. We talk like he's known me for years. Through all this time, we've gotten to really be good friends, and he talks to me like I'm already there. He's from the Georgia area. Me and him, we're good buddies.

Question: Is it exciting for you to know that you'll be coming into Carolina in the same class as the nation's number one player, Jadeveon Clowney?

Harris: Yeah, I'm excited. I can't wait to play with him. Once I put on some weight, I see me and him playing defensive end together. That would be pretty good, me on one end and him on the other.

Question: What jersey number will you be wearing at USC?

Harris: I'm not sure yet, but I'm hoping #34 because nobody has it. That's what number I want. I wore #34 all my life before my senior year because I had to play offensive line. I wore #56 my senior year, but #34 is basically the number I've worn my whole life. I'm hoping to get that again.

Question: What kind of personal goals have you set for yourself in your first year at Carolina?

Harris: I want to play, like everyone else does. But if I don't play, I just want to keep my head on straight and do the right things. If I do get the opportunity to play, I just want to be an impact player. On third downs, I want to make sacks. When the coach puts me in, I want him to say, ‘He's gonna get a sack.' If I do play, I'll set the goal to get a few sacks. I'm not planning on winning the Heisman trophy or anything like that in my first year.

Question: Has anyone told you what to expect with Coach Craig Fitzgerald's strength and conditioning program when you get to Carolina? I‘ve heard those can be pretty intense.

Harris: I've heard a little bit about them, but I haven't talked to any football players about them yet. The coaches just told me to be ready.

Question: There's a strong feeling down in South Carolina that the Gamecocks are on the verge of competing for the school's first ever SEC Championship and possibly even a national championship. How exciting is it for you to be joining the USC program now and to have the chance to do something that has never been done before?

Harris: That's why I'm excited. That's one of the reasons why I picked South Carolina. We have a great chance this year. Alshon (Jeffery), (Marcus) Lattimore, everyone is coming back. We're only losing a couple guys from last year's team, so there's no reason why we shouldn't, in my eyes, make it to the SEC and national championship. We made it to the SEC title game last year, and I believe some of the recruits from this year will make an impact. I'm excited. Regardless of whether I play or not this year, I want to get an SEC ring.

Question: Is there a certain game on USC's 2011 schedule that you look at and say, I can't wait to play against those guys?

Harris: Georgia, without a doubt. A kid from my school (Devin Bowman) is going to Georgia. I don't know if he'll play this year, but regardless I just want to beat them. All he does is talk junk whenever I see him. Beating Georgia this year will be great. It's gonna be awesome to play them every year, and it's a little bit closer to home so everybody will be at that game. My parents were Georgia fans, but now obviously they're South Carolina fans. That'll be great to get to play them.

Question: Being from Georgia, how familiar are you with the intensity of the rivalry between South Carolina and Clemson?

Harris: I've heard it's big time, it's crazy. I've never been to a South Carolina-Clemson game, but I know what it's like to have a rivalry in high school with a school that's right down the road. They've told me it's a really crazy rivalry in every sport, from baseball to football to basketball. When South Carolina and Clemson play each other, it's a big deal.

Question: Do you have any message that you'd like to pass on to Gamecock fans before you officially arrive on campus?

Harris: No, I'll let my play do the talking and hope everything works out for the best.

Just for fun…

Favorite actress? Megan Fox

Favorite musician? Lil Wayne

Favorite food? Steak

Nickname? My parents call me Mase Mase, but I don't really like that.

Favorite pro football team? I just pick out players that I like to watch, not really the teams.

Favorite overall athlete? Blake Griffin

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