Football: Keevon Harris set to return after injury-plagued first season

 

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Keevon Harris poses for a portrait in Walter Fieldhouse. After a wrist injury kept Harris on the sidelines for the entire 2016 season, he kept in shape by catching tennis balls.

 

Keevon Harris didn’t want to stop working last season, even with a cast wrapped around his arm: a wrist injury.

As a wide receiver, Harris would have struggled to be effective last season. After all, wide receivers need their hands.

Harris, a freshman who redshirted last season because of the injury, didn’t want to lose the skill of catching objects.

So he snagged tennis balls.

“I never really got out of the groove,” Harris said.

The tennis balls helped Harris focus on incoming objects, his catching abilities never wavering even with the cast keeping him off the field. Though he focused on catching tennis balls last season, Harris is focused on proving he can catch a bigger object: a football.

“It’s a fantastic feeling knowing I can get back out there and knowing I can make some plays this season if I get the opportunity to,” Harris said.

***

The touchdown runs were during a playoff game against Grand Valley High School. One was for 88 yards, the other for 95.

Harris, who primarily played running back in high school, remembers the 88-yard run from November 2015. Labrae, Harris’ high school, had taken possession before Grand Valley was about to score.

“It was a tight shot, so I just bounced to the outside and took off,” Harris said.

The runs Harris had against Grand Valley were perhaps routine.

Simply, the dude can move.

He posted a 4.46 40-yard dash in high school and was a state qualifier in the 300-meter hurdles. Along with speed, Harris has size too. He’s 6-foot-3 inches. Perfect size for a wide receiver, oversized for a running back.

Andrew Cree II, a defensive lineman for Ohio, knows Harris can be a solid wide receiver. Cree, who went to Labrae with Harris, saw Harris’ athleticism before any college did.

“He could not only run in high school, he could also catch,” Cree said. “And his speed also assisted with that.”

Shorter wide receivers need top-end speed to make up for their lack of height. A taller wide receiver, such as Harris, doesn’t need as much speed; he can use his height to rise over defensive backs.

Harris is gifted with both, which could lead to him being a special player for the Bobcats.

He played running back in high school, along with playing some snaps at wide receiver. In his mind, schools valued his height.

“He’s kind of a Mike Evans kind of body build,” wide receivers coach Dwayne Dixon said.

Evans, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver.

“Yeah, that’s body build that he’s got,” Dixon said.

***

Though Dixon likened Harris’ build to Evans, he doesn’t want to put too much pressure on him. He knows Harris already puts enough pressure on himself.

“He really takes it hard when he feels like a coach gotta correct him,” Dixon said. “That bothers him.”

It all goes back to catching tennis balls while on the sideline at practice. Harris wasn’t running routes. He wasn’t going through drills. He was doing everything he could to be effective upon his return.

On the Bobcats’ first day of spring practice, he felt prepared. The cast was off, but his focus was not.

“When I was out here today actually getting able to catch some full-speed footballs and doing real speed routes against all the other (defensive backs), I felt very comfortable,” Harris said.

Perhaps that’s an example of Harris’ work ethic. Dixon knows he can be good, but acknowledges Harris’ desire to be great sometimes inhibits him.

“(If) he doesn’t make a play on a ball, it bothers him,” Dixon said. “We’re trying to get him focused on the next play.”

***

The end of practice was drawing near last Saturday — Harris was working on catching a mini football. Another ball that required focus.

During the Bobcats’ first spring practice, Harris struggled to catch the mini football Dixon threw to the wide receivers. It had been the end of the first week of practice. With Harris’ work ethic, the mini football surely needed to be caught more consistently.

As Harris ran from the sideline, he turned and looked for the ball. He caught it as he fell to the ground, the sound of Dixon’s praise traveling across Peden Stadium.

The focus was there.

“There was never a time where I stopped catching,” Harris said. “Even with the brace on, the big plastic cast, I was still catching tennis balls with the thumb, tennis balls with the other hand.”

@CameronFields_

cf710614@ohio.edu

 

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