WSU's 'Jitterbug' turning heads this spring

PULLMAN - He has an unofficial nickname: the jitterbug. If you type that word into Google, it defines jitterbug as a quick and lively dance. That makes it the perfect descriptor for Washington State second-year freshman running back Keith Harrington, who has used his quick feet to waltz around defenders through the first nine spring practices.

In last Saturday's scrimmage, Harrington recorded a touchdown and several long runs, tallying 85 rushing yards on six carries. Many of those runs were lengthened by his elusiveness in the open field. After gaining 27 yards on a short shuttle pass from redshirt freshman Peyton Bender, Harrington was given the ball and ran for another 32 yard gain on the following play.

WSU coach Mike Leach was quick to point out that Harrington may be more than just another option at running back after he caught four passes for 53 yards.

“At the rate he’s going, he might be a first option,” Leach said. “He had a really good day. I mean, he is very explosive. He comes out of his cuts real fast and he has steadily improved."

But Leach seemed less than thrilled with Harrington after Tuesday's practice.

"He does some good stuff and has had a pretty good camp," he said. "He didn't play real well today." After Saturday's scrimmage, senior linebacker Jeremiah Allison laughed and strung together a few “Oh my god, yeah” phrases in response to being asked if Harrington makes a difference in what the defense worries about when he’s on the field.

“He’s a jitterbug," Allison said. "He hits the hole real hard, so we just have to find a way to contain him."

That elusiveness in the open field is what makes him so exciting to watch. Though being a running back in college is new to Harrington since he was recruited as a wide receiver, he did wreak havoc on defenders as a running back in high school. That experience has shown.

Running backs coach Jim Mastro spoke highly of Harrington’s ability.

"He just gives you a dynamic because he’s so quick," Mastro said. "He can catch the ball in the backfield, he can make people miss in the open field, he’s that little jitterbug kind of guy you want but he’s also fit. He’s a strong kid so he’s a lot more durable than other guys usually are."

Since Harrington arrived at WSU before last season, he has gained 15 pounds as a result of the work he has put in with the trainers in the mornings so that he would be faster and stronger come fall. He also has a redshirt year under his belt in which he was able to hone his skills as a receiver. The combination of speed, agility and versatility is lethal to defenses.

Harrington’s drive and focus is apparent in the work he has put in, but he also has a fiery love for WSU and his teammates. He noted the reason he chose to come to WSU from Florida as the tight-knit college town with a fan base that comes to games, win or lose, and a team that is led by family-oriented coaches.

“It’s just a lovely environment," he said. "I love the coaching staff and everything’s just great with the coaches. I love being here so I’m still here. Everything is great to me, I love it here. It’s all about football. I love to be at a place that’s all about football.”

Harrington attributed his progression this spring to overcoming the mental hurdles of jumping from high school to college.

“What I didn’t know when I came here, I feel like it’s all mental," he said. "I wasn’t mentally right; my mind wasn’t in the right place. But then once I got out here and started playing I’m like ‘Oh it’s the same thing, it’s the same sport I have been playing since I was little. "I feel like I am more confident now with what I’m doing than I was during fall camp last year and during the season last year," he added.

That confidence is going to come in handy since third-year sophomores Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow are also in the rotation. Wicks has looked especially strong this spring but Harrington described the three of them as a family, adding that Morrow and Wicks have helped him in his transition back to running back.

“We all help each other," he said. "No one gets left behind, everyone helps each other and we are all just trying to get better. All of us. I love it because we are all just going to do our thing, the three-headed dragon is back there."

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