All season long, David Harris has been a one-man hit parade.
The most memorable might be the monstrous wallop he laid on Iowa quarterback Drew Tate deep in Hawkeye territory two weeks ago.
“Oh yeah, I knew I got him good,” Harris said with a smile. “I turned around and saw him lie on the ground for a little bit.”
Harris’s mind-numbing blows have garnered the fifth-year senior heaps of praise in recent weeks. Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and former Ohio State linebacker Chris Spielman both called Harris the best college linebacker they’ve seen this season.
And as of Oct. 26, ESPN’s NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper projected Harris as the 23rd overall pick in this April’s draft, one spot ahead of Penn State’s stud linebacker Paul Posluszny.
But you wouldn’t know it by talking to Harris.
Humble and soft-spoken, Harris deflects any acclaim thrown his way, crediting the defensive line, his coaches, his opponent – anyone but himself.
And he might not be where he is today if he hadn’t.
No matter what life has thrown his way, Harris’s humility, dedication and quiet perseverance have carried him.
He’s living proof that actions really do speak louder than words.
When David’s mom, Shirley Harris, says football has been with her son since birth, she isn’t kidding. She even has the pictures to prove it.
In early 1984, David’s parents brought him home from the hospital to find that his older brother had already placed a football in the baby’s crib.
Before he could even walk, his destiny was sealed.
The Grand Rapids native started playing organized football when he was about 8 years old. Right away, it was clear David was built for the sport.
Maybe a little too built.
Even though David was born prematurely, he grew rapidly, and by the time he took to the gridiron for the first time, he was too heavy to suit up full-time for his Pop Warner league’s 8-year-old team.
The coaches let him play offense on every snap, but he could only line up for a few defensive downs each game. That didn’t sit well with David, who desperately wanted to play defense.
By fifth grade, David was about eight pounds over the weight limit and still restricted to the offensive side of the ball. One of his coaches told him that if he dropped his weight, he could get on the field on defense, too.
So the linebacker-to-be took matters into his own hands.
“When I came home, he had Saran wrap from his neck down to his toes,” Shirley said. “When I asked him why, he said ‘Coach told me I need to lose weight.’ . I took the scissors and went straight down his back, down one leg and then down the other leg.
“That’s when they moved him up to the senior team.”
From Pop Warner to Ann Arbor, all David wanted was to be on the field. Heading into ninth grade, he practiced with Ottawa Hills High School’s varsity squad for nearly all of its training camp.
But two days before the season started, David asked to be moved down to JV because he didn’t want to spend the year sitting on the bench.
The extra playing time paid off. In three varsity seasons, Harris notched 295 tackles and 16 sacks, and set school records for solo tackles in a season (114) and career (225).
Never one to be confined to either side of the ball, Harris was a regular at fullback during his senior season, when he amassed 565 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
But his earth-shattering hits as a linebacker made him famous.
“(The other parents) called him ‘the terminator’ in high school,” Shirley said. “Because when he hit someone, you knew it.”
Five years later, the nickname still describes David perfectly.
Even though David’s ferocious hits were notorious at Ottawa Hills, he was relatively unheralded coming out of high school. Rivals.com ranked the three-star recruit as the nation’s No. 23 inside linebacker in 2002 – 11 spots below now-reserve defensive end Jeremy Van Alstyne and two spots ahead of now-starting fullback Obi Oluigbo.
None of that mattered to David, a good student who had his heart set on donning maize and blue.
When he took the ACT as a ninth grader, Michigan was the first university listed on his form. If he’d had his way, it would have been the only university, too. Shirley said she had to convince him to even consider other schools.
It must have been a dream come true when he signed his letter of intent.
But David’s first two years in Ann Arbor were far from ideal. After redshirting the 2002 season, Harris recorded two tackles in the Wolverines’ 2003 season opener.
Harris’s promising redshirt freshman campaign ended the following week when he injured his left ACL and had to leave the field on a stretcher during Michigan’s blowout win over Houston.
“The most disappointing thing in that game was that David Harris suffered a knee injury that will require surgery,” Carr said at the time. “David will miss the rest of the season. That’s a big loss for our football team, not only (because of) the fact that he is a very promising football player. (He is also) a wonderful young man, so that’s a big loss for us.”
Harris underwent surgery the following Friday, spending the night at Campus Inn before heading home to Grand Rapids for the weekend.
The doctors had given David a large prescription of Vicodin to ease the pain, and he took two pills when he first got home. But David didn’t like the way they made him feel. So Shirley grabbed the bottle and flushed the rest of the pills.
“He just toughed it out,” Shirley said.
Shirley described David as down but not depressed during his recovery, an attitude that she attributes to the way he had bounced back from serious injuries in the past.
When he was about 3 years old, David ran into his dad’s bench press, and the end of one of the barbells hit him right on the bridge of his nose.
Doctors told his parents that if the barbell had hit him slightly to the left or right, it would have taken out one of his eyes. A scar from the injury is still visible on his nose today.
Six years later, David flipped over his bicycle and landed so that a screw lodged itself in his head, sending him back to the hospital.
“I told (the doctor) to give me the bad news first,” Shirley said. “He said, ‘No, here’s the good news. The good news is that the screw didn’t penetrate his skull.’ I said, ‘What’s the bad news?’ He said, ‘He’s got a hard head.’ “
Jokes aside, David would need that resilience to keep his spirits up during the year-long rehabilitation from his torn ACL.
“I doubted myself a lot,” Harris told the Associated Press earlier this year. “It’s just one of those things where you have to keep telling yourself that you’re going to come back and be better than you were before. You just have to progress like that.”
On Sept. 4, 2004, almost exactly a year after suffering the injury, Harris returned to the field, notching two special teams tackles against Miami (Ohio). He saw limited action in Michigan’s next two games before earning his first career start, against Iowa.
As it turns out, that first start might have come a little too soon. Shirley said David overdid it against the Hawkeyes and his leg locked up later that week.
Even though he traveled to Indiana the following week, he didn’t play.
When David brought his mom and dad, Timothy Harris, Sr., down to the sideline before the game to tell them he wouldn’t be suiting up, Shirley could see how disappointed he was.
“I just told him, ‘Just take it easy,’ ” Shirley said. ” ‘If another person can come back, you can do it too, just don’t take it too fast. You don’t give your body time to heal, (and) you can do more damage to it than was originally done.’ “
After Indiana, David sat out the next four games before working his way back into the lineup for the Wolverines’ final three contests, including their Rose Bowl loss.
A complete comeback would have to wait one more year.
Considering Harris’s redshirt freshman season ended in its second game, it’s only fitting that his redshirt junior season began the same week.
David missed last year’s season opener because of an ankle injury he suffered in training camp. But he earned his second career start against Notre Dame the following week, picking up eight tackles and one forced fumble in the contest.
He hasn’t looked back since.
Harris stormed onto the scene last year, finishing with seven tackles for loss and a team-high 88 tackles. For that, Harris earned the Roger Zatkoff Award, presented annually to Michigan’s top linebacker.
This year, the 6-foot-2, 239-pounder is receiving plenty of national hype. Last month, Harris was named one of 10 semifinalists for the 2006 Butkus Award, given annually to the nation’s best collegiate linebacker.
“It’s an honor, but I know that doesn’t mean anything,” Harris said. “It’s not going to help me play better, (and) it’s not going to be give me an advantage over an opponent lined up across from me.”
Neither will weighing in on April’s NFL Draft. Hard as it is to believe, Harris really does seem to have blocked the NFL out of his mind for now.
That doesn’t mean the NFL has stopped thinking about Harris. Agents have tried to contact him, but he decided before the season to redirect their brochures and phone calls to his parents until after Michigan’s bowl game.
“They call, and I tell them what David told me,” Shirley said. “I’m not going to talk to anyone until after his NCAA eligibility is over.”
Said David: “I can’t afford to think about it right now. I have to worry about this season, take it one game at a time. I know that if I take care of business, that will take care of itself.”
So far, so good.
Through nine games, Harris is pacing the Wolverines with 55 tackles, including 40 solo stops, and his eight tackles for loss rank third on the team.
When asked if he ever feels guilty after a hit, Harris was predictably mum. He just shook his head, smirked and said no.
But really, he didn’t need to say anything.
Harris’s hits speak for themselves.