As expected and predicted on The Bootleg earlier this week, junior offensive tackle Kwame Harris has declared for the NFL draft and left school. Though only a true junior with not yet three years under his belt on The Farm, Harris was the consensus #1 offensive line recruit out of high school in 2000, and his national reputation and standing as a preminent tackle has never diminished. Expectations are that he could be a high first round draft pick, particularly in this year with scant OT talent leaving the college ranks.
But surprisingly, Harris spent what he described as an agonizing two-and-a-half week process on the question of declaring versus staying - without the benefit of any draft prognostication or guidance. This is in sharp contrast with the decision made last month by Stanford receiver Teyo Johnson, where Johnson predicated his jump largely based on an official NCAA draft evaluation panel who told him prior to the season that he was a late first round or early second round selection. Harris says that he has not contacted any such advisory committee, nor has he looked to the draft prognostications of Mel Kiper and the like.
"I heard all that stuff during the season, and saw the preseason draft lists, but all those are written by the media. Those don't come from scouts," he explains. "Those people don't know anything."
The only consultation he spent was with coaches and family. He talked at great length with Buddy Teevens, who used his many NFL connections to help gain context from player personnel managers. But Harris says that there was no specific guidance on his draft selection from those inquiries. "They could not be precise without having seen my film," he comments. Harris also called his former head coach, Tyrone Willingham; both Teevens and Willingham helped advise him on what to expect as he leaves for the NFL. The most earnest conversations, though, came within the Harris family, as they all searched for answers.
None of this means the highly achieving junior does not have high goals or standards for his draft selection. "I would like to be one of the first tackles, if not the first tackle, taken in the draft. I just feel comfortable giving it my all and seeing where that will take me."
Regardless of where he does get drafted, the former Delaware high school star points to former Stanford teammate Eric Heitmann. Harris opines that Heitmann had first round talent, but in the final days before the 2002 NFL draft plummeted to a shocking 7th round position. "The NFL can be fickle, but Eric is still starting in the league this year regardless," he notes.
Harris is already waist-deep in his NFL combine preparation at the Athletes' Performance Institute in Tempe, Arizona. There he is working with director Mark Verstegen, who founded the Institute and has trained a variety of athletes ranging from Eddie George to Nomar Garciaparra; from Mia Hamm to Mary Pierce. Currently a number of pro baseball players are training there, as well as several offensive linemen preparing for the upcoming NFL draft.
"We hit the ground running," says Harris of his arrival at the Institute. "I love it. It feels like two-a-days all over again. When you can become so immersed in your training like this, it is amazing the gains you can make."
Though he has left Stanford, the monolithic lineman he feels like his heart still resides at The Farm. "I love Stanford," he pronounces. "I love the students. I love our new head coach. I love all the faculty. There were a lot of sleepless nights, where I would get up in the middle of the night rethinking whether this was the right thing to do."
Part of what he leaves behind is his degree progress, which is in English. Though many students bemoan the demands of reading and writing up term papers, Harris is very excitable when papers are on his plate. With just one quarter under his belt in his third year at Stanford, he says that he has just one year and one quarter to go for his degree. Even had he stayed through his senior season, he would have had a quarter to go when time hit that January to train for the draft combines. Either way, he declares his promise to finish his degree.
"The education I received during my three years is second to none and has prepared me well to deal with all of life's tribulations. It is my utmost intention to complete my degree at Stanford," he offers. He furthermore is looking at medical school after the completion of his undergraduate English degree.
Kwame Harris won the Morris Trophy this past fall as the top offensive lineman in the Pac-10 conference, and was also named honorable mention All-America. He credits much of his success this year to current offensive line coach Steve Morton, who has coached and molded more than his share of NFL-bound linemen including Lincoln Kennedy and Olin Kreutz. "The things I learned from Coach Morton this year put me far above and beyond what I had learned before he was there," Harris charges.
Though many a fan and observer might query if this early NFL departure was related to the 2-9 season just experienced, Harris is quick to refute any such speculation. "My decision to leave Stanford is not a reflection on the last year," he explains. "It had nothing to do with that. The reason I left, after talking with my family for a long time, was the opportunity to be drafted very early. That is very attractive to me. It just felt right in my heart."