Owls' Harris gets that old feeling back

Posted: October 10, 2012

ON SATURDAY afternoon at the Linc, as Temple's football team put the finishing touches on an eventful return to the Big East after eight seasons, Montel Harris said it felt like "old times."

As in, keep feeding him the rock and watch as something good happens.

With victory all but secured, the newest Owl made sure by running 35 yards for a touchdown off the right side, one play after Marcus Green had blocked a field goal that would have put South Florida ahead with just over a minute left.

It was, as Sean Connery told Mr. Goldfinger on the 18th hole of their classic movie golf match, the clincher.

"Being able to break away like that and seeing the end zone, no one in front of me, knowing I had to outrun one person, that was a great feeling," Harris said.

It's what he does. And he did it for three seasons at Boston College. Yet, Saturday's two TDs - he scored earlier in the fourth quarter on a 3-yard run - marked the first time he had scored since resurfacing on North Broad Street. Coach Steve Addazio can only hope it's not the last.

Harris, who carried 787 times for a BC-record 3,735 yards and 27 scores in three seasons, injured his left knee in the next-to-last game of the 2010 season. After sitting out the first three games the following year, he played in a couple of games before aggravating it. So he applied for a medical redshirt, which was granted, to give him another year of eligibility. But on May 1 he was kicked off the team for repeated rules violations. No specifics ever have been given. Still, nobody seemed to question his character.

Since Harris was already graduated with a degree in communications, he could transfer and play immediately. Which he did. Good thing Temple had just added two BC assistants to its staff: associate head coach Kevin Rogers and offensive coordinator Ryan Day. So, Harris became an Owl.

"At first, I didn't know what I was going to do," said the 5-10, 210-pound Harris, who holds a black belt in karate. "I feel like everything happens for a reason. I don't let anything set me back. I was just looking to find the next best option for me.

"That [Rogers and Day being here] had a lot to do with it. I just trust in them, a lot. I had the opportunity, and it ended up working out. They've been in my corner. [The situation] was tough, but people who know me know what kind of person I am. I wanted to have a chance to prove that again. I'm the same person. I'm just someone who loves to play football, a team player.

"The transition was pretty easy. I came in and told the guys all I wanted to do was put in the work. And they pretty much accepted me."

The hardest part might have been the physical aspect. He suffered a hamstring injury that limited him to 35 yards on 15 carries in the first three games, one of which he sat out. Against USF he had 133 on 24, with much of that in the fourth quarter after Matt Brown went out with an ankle injury. The plan was obviously to have both of them together. But if Brown is limited this week at Connecticut (3-3, 0-1), at least the Owls (2-2, 1-0) can go to the conference's reigning offensive player of the week.

Never a bad option.

"In football you're going to get injuries," Harris said. "It's just how you come back from that, and prepare. I just tried to do whatever the trainers told me to. But you can't worry too much about those things.

"I'm kind of used to sharing the load, in high school [Trinity Christian, in Jacksonville, Fla.] and even at first in college. So I'm familiar with that role. I felt Matt and I could complement each other very well. I think it's a little bit being mature and dealing with it. When Matt went out, I knew I had to step up my game. I'm sure some people thought I was overhyped or whatever. But I was looking to have a big year.

"I felt pretty good the first half, but I was getting a little frustrated because I wasn't finishing some of the runs I should have finished. After that I just told myelf to run hard, not to think about anything and it would open up."

And sure enough, it unfolded the way he figured.

"It's not been easy for him," Addazio noted. "He's still not really where he's been. That's not happened yet, that next gear. But I'm glad we have him."

Harris has at least seven games left in his collegiate career, maybe eight. He only wants to make the most of them, because he more than most understands there's no going back.

"It's a long season," said Harris, who is pursuing a master's degree in adult and organizational development. "You have to be patient. The time you missed is what motivates you. You know your time will come. When it does, you have to be ready.

"I'm a running back. I like to run the ball. As far as [feeling any] pressure, I would say I'm my biggest critic. I just look forward to making big plays. I kind of pride myself on being a workhorse. I can take the load if I have to, put the team on my back."

When it was finally his time, he answered. The timing couldn't have been better for his new program.

Contact Mike Kern at kernm@phillynews.com.

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