Harris eager about Riverside task

Posted: April 27, 2014

He is young and enthusiastic and, more importantly, Dan Harris knows the landscape.

He also understands the enormity of the job he accepted earlier this month as football coach at Riverside. He replaced Nelson Hayspell, who resigned after last season.

Harris is a 2005 graduate of Riverside, so he knows the past and present of the program and how it takes a special person to take on the challenge.

That's because this Group 1 school has struggled mightily in football. This past fall, the Rams were 0-10, and they have lost 22 in a row. Over the last five years, they are 1-49.

Since the advent of NJSIAA playoffs in 1974, Riverside has been to the postseason twice.

And that is where Harris' experience and belief that this can be turned around come in. He was a two-way lineman on one of those playoff teams, Riverside's 5-5 squad during his junior year in 2003.

He was a three-year starter and the other two teams went 4-6 both years, so he saw firsthand how the program can be more competitive.

And that is why Harris, 27, isn't shying away from the challenge. In fact, he's embracing it. His passion for his alma mater and his town are two more driving forces.

"I have a lot of pride where I come from, and even if the football team is suffering, I want to be there," Harris said.

Who wouldn't want to be coached by somebody like that?

Harris has four years of assistant coaching experience. He was an assistant two seasons at Riverside and one year each at Holy Cross and Clearview, where he is also a teacher.

And he has been a sponge in absorbing information from some of the elite coaches in South Jersey.

"I have visited the top-notch programs, talked to coaches at places like St. Joe and West Deptford and see what they do," Harris said.

It's interesting he mentioned West Deptford. Current coach Clyde Folsom performed one of the best transformations in South Jersey history. Before Folsom arrived in 1991, West Deptford had 19 consecutive nonwinning seasons.

Over the last 12 seasons, West Deptford is 126-13 with six South Jersey Group 2 titles.

So coaching can make a difference.

Harris understands he has to roll up his sleeves, but he's willing to pay the price.

He said 44 players have signed up for the team. That's a strong number for a Group 1 school, and it doesn't count the incoming freshmen.

Part of turning a program around is selling it not only to players but also to the community. He says he has good relationships in Riverside. And next week, he will meet with the midget-football coaches, trying to work hand-in-hand with the feeder program.

Many have congratulated Harris for getting the job, but a number have asked him an obvious question: Is he crazy to take this position?

He understands the skepticism but wants people to know they should realize his passion and ambition.

"I know if I stick with things and have a disciplined program, good things will happen," he said.

Harris speaks from experience. He was part of a playoff team as a player. He plans one day to do the same as a coach.


mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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