It was almost exactly two years ago.
On Sept. 6, 2003, the No. 5 Michigan football team had just demolished Houston by a laughable score of 50-3. Things were looking good for the Wolverines at the time. Running back Chris Perry had rumbled his way up and down the field for 184 yards and two touchdowns. The defense was riding high after a shutdown performance in which it recorded a safety and held the Cougars to just 138 total yards. And the team was energized for its upcoming battle with Notre Dame, in which it would memorably dominate the Irish en route to a 38-0 victory.
But not everybody in Maize and Blue was smiling.
Those were dark days for David Harris, a linebacker and then-special teamer who suffered a season-ending injury to his left ACL during the Houston contest. Harris, then a redshirt freshman, was a mere two games into his playing career at Michigan when everything came to a screeching halt.
“The most disappointing thing in that game was that David Harris suffered a knee injury that will require surgery,” coach Lloyd 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.”
Fast-forward to 2005. After returning to see limited action in seven games – including one start – for Michigan last season, tallying 10 tackles and forcing one fumble along the way, Harris enters this season with an elevated role.
It’s traditionally believed that a player coming back from an ACL injury returns to form two years later, and Harris, now a redshirt junior, is bolstering that conviction. Despite missing Michigan’s opener against Northern Illinois due to an ankle wound suffered in training camp, Harris made his season debut against Notre Dame last Saturday and didn’t disappoint.
“I felt comfortable,” Harris said. “If you practice hard, the game comes easy. It’s great to get back out there.”
The Grand Rapids native recorded a career-high eight tackles and forced a key fumble with 12 minutes left to give Michigan an opportunity to close the gap and remain in the game against the Irish. On a Notre Dame first-and-10, Irish quarterback Brady Quinn took the snap and handed the ball off to running back Darius Walker. Harris exploded through the line of scrimmage, finding a gap between center Bob Morton and right guard Dan Stevenson. Walker’s hold on the rock was shaky to begin with, but Harris made sure to knock the ball away cleanly. Defensive end Rondell Biggs fell on the pigskin and Michigan took over just 18 yards from the goal line.
“We had a blitz call, and I came through the A gap,” Harris said. “(I) got through real quick and met the runner as soon as he was getting the handoff. I saw it in his eye that he really didn’t want to run and was fumbling the ball a little bit, so I batted it out of his hands.”
Though the Wolverines were unable to score on the ensuing possession, Harris’s performance – which also included a third-down assist tackle on Walker that brought an end to a subsequent Notre Dame possession and set up Michigan’s lone touchdown – made an impact on his coaches and teammates.
“I thought David Harris made a world of difference in there,” Carr said. “(He) is capable of being an outstanding linebacker – (He’s) big, and he’s strong, and he’s tough. He likes to play the game and he’s a competitive guy. And he’s smart. I like everything about him.”
Outspoken fifth-year senior rush end Pierre Woods, a regular in Michigan’s defensive lineup during Harris’s time in Ann Arbor, has nothing but good things to say about the quiet 6-foot-2, 251-pounder out of Ottawa Hills High School.
“He fills up the middle a lot,” Woods said of Harris. “Dave comes out there and competes hard every day. And he wants to win as much as anyone else. Dave is not a vocal person, but he goes out there and he plays hard – I’m happy that he’s back.”