Nineteen years ago, little Da'John Harris had a big job. The three-year-old wore an oversized jersey that could have been mistaken for a dress, a helmet so big the empty space could fit another head and way-too-large pants that he practically tripped over. Despite the amusing costume, Harris was totally serious every time he ran onto the field. He would grab the kickoff tee during Pop Warner games and waddle back to the sideline. He didn't watch who won or lost. That moment was the entire game for him.
Fast-forward four years, and the bigger, but still tiny, Harris couldn't wait until his seventh birthday. He entered L.A. Demos youth football at that age. Everyone close to him had thrown or caught a football before, except him. The feelings he had when he first touched a ball-as a runningback-still linger.
Another four years later, and Harris became known for his speed, playing at inside linebacker. His dad was his coach that year, and decided to experiment with his son on the line, putting the 11-year old at defensive tackle.
Funny enough, it was his athleticism that put him there, not his size. Today it's the other way around. While still athletic, the 22-year old grew up—and grew-- in the last 11 years. Now 6'4, 305-pounds, Harris is still kind of a big kid. He's called "Juicy" more than Da'John, a nickname given to him by New Orleans' Saint and former Trojan Sedrick Ellis. He responds to the name so much, he says, that he just goes with it. But he doesn't like it.
What he does like? Harry Potter movies and collecting seashells. Seriously. It clears his mind. He also likes sacking the quarterback and stopping the run, but that's typical. So is following his family's tradition of becoming a football player. But Da'John "Juicy" Harris is more than just your Simon Says tackle.
He has dreams beyond football. They include developing ideas for multi-use buildings. Similarly, he can be used many ways on the football field. With experience on offense, he can read coverages well and use his size to disrupt plays. He's not worried about being the leader of the statistics board, he says, but rather wants to be a productive teammate. And despite his size, Harris can react quickly. Quick enough to earn two false-start penalties in last season's opener against Hawaii. But smart enough to not make another again all season.
He admitted that USC wasn't what he thought it was at the beginning. He imagined his college would be more comfortable, that he'd better fit with the coaching staff and system. But then the Trojan traditions grew on him, like the Trojan Walk that ‘changed his life.' And with time, the teammates became his brothers. Eventually, the boy who probably slept at night with audibles floating around his brain figured out who he was at USC.
And although he'll tell you otherwise, because he internalizes every feeling, emotion and thought, none of his self-discovery was a product of the hours he spent in the weight room. He had more personality than the one he showed offensive lineman. Sure the Inglewood native loved to hit and be physical, but it wasn't who he was. It was one part of the entire picture.
Football is Da'John ‘Juicy' Harris' main activity, his number-one passion and his most prized possession. But after walking across the USC stage this past May, he has a better idea of the man he is, and wants to be. He'll still crack jokes and flash his Steve Harvey-sized smile. He still wants to dominate in the sport he loves, and play in the NFL, but it's no longer his lifeline.
Now, the little boy who spent his entire life donning pads, helmets and jerseys-some too big, some too small, some just right-knows there is more to him than just being a football player. It took him a couple decades, but he's figured it out. The realization has proved beneficial, too. There is less pressure on him and more production in him. Hopefully the Trojan can sustain his mindset in the Fall, and finish his tenure with USC on a ‘Juicy' note.