Freshman Harrison is making people forget about size
COLLEGE PARK — The messages on social media began popping up the moment DeMatha running back Lorenzo Harrison announced early in his junior year that he was committing to play at Maryland.
They were mostly directed at Harrison’s coach, Elijah Brooks, coming from already disgruntled Terps fans. They didn’t exactly offer congratulations on the first football player to commit orally for 2016.
“They were just saying, ‘Hey, Coach Brooks, you’re sending us all your worst players,’ ” Brooks recalled in a phone interview Tuesday. “I thought in my head, ‘You guys have no clue what this kid can do for you guys.’ They just saw a small running back with a three-star rating and thought they were getting the short end of the stick.”
Midway though Harrison’s freshman season, the doubters have disappeared.
Starting near the bottom of a five-player rotation at running back, Harrison has emerged as Maryland’s leading rusher (502 yards) and one of the most productive freshmen in the country (7.7 yards per carry and five touchdowns).
Harrison, 5 feet 8, 193 pounds, has gained more yards than any other true freshman in the Big Ten; only redshirt freshman Mike Weber of Ohio State has more (683 yards on 115 carries with four touchdowns) among first-year players in the conference. Only the Buckeyes’ Curtis Samuel has a higher yards-per-carry average (8.2) among running backs in the Big Ten with at least 500 yards.
Among true freshmen nationally, Harrison ranks behind only Weber, Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams (727 yards on 91 carries with five touchdowns) and Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill (565 yards on 109 carries and four touchdowns). His yards-per-carry rank seventh nationally among running backs with at least 500 yards.
With sophomore Ty Johnson, who has been even more explosive (10.3-yard average on 47 carries) at times than Harrison, the Terps have one of the best running attacks in the Big Ten (249.6 yards per game), ranking third behind Ohio State and Michigan.
While first-year coach DJ Durkin said Tuesday that he plans to stick with his running-back-by-committee approach Saturday at Indiana, Harrison is making those decisions about how much Durkin will use each more Saturday, 3:30 p.m. TV: ESPNU Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM Line: Indiana by 41⁄ difficult.
“Like anything else, a lot of those decisions are based on productivity and how guys are doing,” Durkin said. Harrison and Johnson “are both being very productive for us. We’ll continue a healthy rotation. The depth at that position is a strength of ours.”
Yet it’s becoming more obvious that Harrison is the team’s breakout star this season, while Johnson, who showed flashes as a freshman, also plays a leading role. Harrison needs 187 yards in Maryland’s last five games to break Terps all-time leading rusher LaMont Jordan’s freshman record (688 yards).
In Maryland’s 28-17 victory over Michigan State last week, Harrison carried 17 times for105 yards, both season highs, and scored his fifth touchdown. Johnson, who has 20 fewer yards and 18 fewer carries than Harrison, had 115 yards on just nine carries against the Spartans.
Though many questioned Michigan State’s defense, Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said: “Give Maryland credit. Those running backs made people miss. We had Running back Lorenzo Harrison is only 5 feet 8 and 193 pounds, but he has emerged as Maryland’s leading rusher (502 yards) and one of the nation’s most productive freshmen. them dead a couple of times and they snuck out and got first downs or got the edge.”
Even before he became the first Maryland freshman in history to have rushing touchdowns in each of his first four games, Harrison showed early in preseason camp that he might be ready to be part of the rotation at what Durkin said was his deepest position.
“That second or third practice where we tackle to the ground, and nobody could get him to the ground, you knew he had a chance to be something special, especially with what we do on offense,” offensive coordinator Walt Bell said Wednesday.
After that, Bell said, “it was how fast could we get him ready to contribute at a high level.”
The answer: Though Harrison was the fifth player to take a handoff in Maryland’s season opener, he still finished as the team’s leading rusher with 67 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.
The next week at Florida International, Harrison’s first carry resulted in a 40-yard touchdown. He had 15 carries for a teamhigh 78 yards and a touchdown in a double-overtime win at Central Florida.
In his first Big Ten game, a 50-7 win over Purdue, Harrison rushed for a 62-yard touchdown but was overshadowed by Johnson, who carried seven times for 204 yards and two touchdowns. Even in the team’s two losses, Harrison played reasonably well.
“It’s one thing to contribute in spurts, [be] a four-, five- or six-rep-a-game guy, just here or there. But for him to now be a 30- to 40-snap-a-game guy, being counted on in protections, [running backs coach Anthony Tucker] has done a great job with him,” Bell said.
Bell also credits Harrison’s work ethic and what Brooks has described as his former star’s “even-keel” personality.
“He also has done a really good job in the way he practices,” Bell said. “He has very, very, very few bad days from a mood standpoint, from a workmanship standpoint, which is very rare for a freshman. At this time of year, they typically hit the wall.”
Bell said Harrison’s stature and previous status as an overlooked high school player also influence his success. Harrison was ranked the 55th-best running back in the country and was the lowest-rated of the four DeMatha players to come to Maryland this season.
“In terms of his motivation, he’s a prideful kid. He’s got a chip on his shoulder,” Bell said. “I think lot of that has to do with he’s a diminutive guy, he’s a little bit smaller. He’s got a lot to prove, which I like. I’m the same way.” NO. 22 NAVY (5-1, 4-0 AAC) @SOUTH FLORIDA (6-2, 3-1) When: Tonight, 7 Site: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla. TV: ESPN2 Radio: 1090 AM, 1430 AM Series: Navy leads 1-0 What’s at stake: Navy can become bowl-eligible and move closer to capturing the American Athletic Conference West Division with a win. South Florida is seeking its second win over a ranked opponent under fourth-year coach Willie Taggart. Key matchup: The Bulls offensive line averages 317 pounds. Right tackle Marcus Norman and left guard Jeremi Hall anchor the unit. Nose tackle Patrick Forrestal will play a key role in making sure Navy isn’t blown off the ball. If South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers and tailback Marlon Mack have room, it could be a long night for the Mids. Player to watch: Flowers is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback in the same mold as Houston standout Greg Ward Jr. Flowers leads the Bulls in rushing with 745 yards and eight touchdowns. He has used his strong, accurate arm to pass for 1,722 yards and 15 touchdowns. — Bill Wagner,
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