Southeast RB Harris begins chase for elusive 1,000 yards

Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Southeast running back Henry Harris struts into the end zone for a touchdown during the 2009 season opener at Houck Stadium. (KIT DOYLE)

Southeast Missouri State hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2002. Only a handful of players in program history have reached that coveted milestone.

Henry Harris appears poised to make a run at the mark. While admitting it would be nice, the senior tailback said that's not at the front of his mind.

"It's not about the individual, it's about the team," Harris said following Tuesday morning's practice at Houck Stadium. "Wins are more important."

The Redhawks won only two games last year but you can't blame Harris. The 5 foot 8, 185-pounder from Memphis, Tenn., put together a strong season.

Harris rushed for 720 yards, the highest total at Southeast since 2002. He also led the Redhawks with seven touchdowns while averaging a healthy 4.8 yards per carry. He added 13 pass receptions.

Southeast running back Henry Harris gained 720 yards on 151 carries last season. (Fred Lynch)

"He had a very good season last year and he's been doing well so far. He's made a lot of improvement," said Southeast coach Tony Samuel, whose team is in its final week of fall camp as classes begin Monday. "It looks like he's gained some speed. He looks faster."

Harris, who ripped off a 95-yard touchdown run in situational work late during Tuesday's practice, isn't sure he's gained speed.

But Harris, fast and extremely quick to begin with, said feeling healthy after being bothered by some nagging injuries in recent seasons might be a factor.

"I feel 100 percent. I'm feeling great," said Harris, the Ohio Valley Conference's No. 2 returning rusher who has been timed at less than 4.5 seconds over 40 yards.

Harris, who started all 11 games last year, also was solid during a 2008 season that marked his first campaign at Southeast after transferring from the University of Memphis.

Harris made one start and played in 10 games as a sophomore. He was Southeast's second-leading rusher with 318 yards while averaging 4.2 yards per carry and scoring four touchdowns.

That came after Harris decided to leave his hometown Division I-A school, where he was a walk-on. He redshirted at Memphis in 2006 before playing in four games on special teams in 2007.

"We never know our plan. God is going to tell us what to do," said Harris, a recreation major scheduled to graduate in May. "I felt it was time to make a move. I've been real happy here."

While not big for a running back, Harris is strong and compact. He has been able to withstand all the pounding the position takes despite his lack of bulk.

"It doesn't bother me. I did it in high school," said Harris, who gained 1,579 yards and scored 22 touchdowns as a senior at Christian Brothers in Memphis, where he ranks as the program's all-time leader in rushing and all-purpose yards. Samuel, like many coaches, believes in dividing up carries at tailback to keep players as fresh as possible. That might work against Harris' shot at a 1,000-yard season, but he's fine with it.

Harris and bruising 240-pound senior Mike Jones formed a nice combination with their contrasting styles last year. That should be the case again this season as Jones splits time between tailback and fullback.

"You like to create a tandem so you've got fresh guys rolling in and out. It's a group thing," said Samuel, whose squad will hold its second and final scrimmage at 1 p.m. Saturday at Houck Stadium

Said Harris: "We're trying to push each other, make each other better. We need to give each other breaks."

If Harris is to make a run at 1,000 yards, he knows Southeast's offensive line will play a major role.

The line, which returns three full-time starters and several other players with experience, helped the 2009 Redhawks rank 16th nationally in rushing with an average of 183.6 yards per game.

"They're coming together real good, like a family," Harris said. "They're playing good."

Regardless of how many yards Harris puts up, his primary focus is on helping the Redhawks turn around last year's 2-9 record and post a rare winning season.

Harris said he and Southeast's other seniors want to leave a legacy on the program.

"We're trying to change things, get some wins under our belt," Harris said. "We've got a lot of seniors. We've been around the struggle. We're trying to lead the young guys.

"The program has been doing a lot for us. It's our time to show our appreciation and give back with some wins."

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