After getting cut from his middle-school team twice, Harrison gave up on football and put his focus on basketball. His twisting-and-turning path to the NFL began quite unexpectedly during his junior year at Lake Charles (La.) Boston High School.
"On Nov. 29, 2005 — I'll never forget the date because it was my birthday — I tore my meniscus in my left knee," Harrison, a nose tackle prospect out of William Penn, an NAIA school located in Oskaloosa, Iowa, told Packer Report. "Between that month until the end of December or early January, I gained like 40 or 50 pounds. So, I was like, ‘I might as well go out for football now.'"
Even then, Harrison's football career was almost short-circuited before it began.
"I almost didn't play my senior year because the coaches had asked me my freshman, sophomore and junior years to come out for football and I kept telling them, ‘No, I'm a basketball player,'" Harrison said. "Finally, when I went to try out during summer workouts, the coach said, ‘No. I've been asking you to play and we don't want you out here.' The guys I was with told me to ‘Keep coming, keep coming.' Every day, he told me the same thing. ‘I don't know why you're here. Just go home.'"
Harrison refused to go home. He wound up being named the team's offensive and defensive MVP. After the season ended with a playoff loss, his coach told him the reason for the tough love.
"‘I was telling you that just to make sure that you wanted to play and you weren't just playing because everybody wanted you to do it,'" Harrison recalled.
Since so much of recruiting takes place during a high school player's junior season, Harrison slipped through the cracks, even though he was an all-district and all-Southwest Louisiana selection. So, with no recruiting offers in hand and on the final day in which the seniors were allowed to use the high school library, Harrison sent out a bunch of e-mails to universities and junior colleges around the area.
Courtesy William Penn
Again, his football career almost came to an abrupt end. With just one year of football experience, Harrison wasn't ready to play. He grayshirted for the season, left school after one semester and went back home to work as a night stocker at Wal-Mart.
"I was done with football," Harrison figured.
That changed when Miller was hired as an assistant at William Penn. Miller called and Harrison decided to give football one more shot.
As a freshman in 2008, Harrison finished fifth on the team in tackles. As a sophomore and junior, he was voted second-team all-conference. As a senior, as every NFL team dispatched scouts to the school, he was named first-team all-conference and earned some All-American recognition after posting 3.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for losses among his team-high 60 tackles.
Harrison (6-foot-3, 339 pounds) took part in Iowa State's pro day on March 20. Packers general manager Ted Thompson was there, which is noteworthy in itself but more so when put into this context: The Cyclones probably don't have anyone of interest for the Packers but Thompson was there anyway rather than back home for Jeff Saturday's free agent visit.
Grateful for the opportunity that awaits, Harrison sent an e-mail to Thompson and the general managers of other teams in attendance to thank them for their interest.
"I gave Bridge (agent Marc Lillibridge) a call and I asked him how he felt about it," said Harrison, who is considered a late-round prospect in a weak class of nose tackles. "I enjoyed the whole process. I'm a guy who pretty much comes from nothing, so any time I get attention from anybody, I just want them to know that I'm thankful for it and wanted to show my appreciation. I appreciate that they took the time out to talk to me at the school and come to the pro day. That's not something I take for granted."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.