October 8, 2013 10:53:33 AM
Expectations don't faze Eric Harris.
As the West Lowndes High School football team's go-to back, Harris knows his teammates count on him to make big plays, to be a leader, and to provide an emotional lift whenever they need it.
That's a lot to expect from a junior who is in his first season in such a significant role. But the 5-foot-7, 155-pounder isn't backing down from his responsibility.
"I play with my heart 24-7, the whole game," Harris said. "I depend on my team and listen to the coach and the plays he calls. I put 110 percent in every time I get the ball."
Harris lived up to his word in a big way Friday, rushing for a season-high 137 yards and three touchdowns in a 54-8 victory against West Oktibbeha County High in a Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 1A, Region 3 game in Maben. For his accomplishment, Harris is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
The 137-yard effort was Harris' fourth 100-plus yard game of the season. It pushed his season total to 630 yards (nine touchdowns) in six games. With four games remaining, including a one at 7 p.m. Friday against Nanih Waiya (3-3, 2-1 region), Harris has work to do if he is going to reach his goal of 2,000 yards. Two open dates on the schedule also don't work in Harris' favor, but he isn't going to use any excuses and is going to do everything in his power to reach that number.
Harris is off to a good start considering he has only 73 carries. West Lowndes coach Anthony King said Harris has transitioned into a bigger role on offense this season after he spent most of the past two seasons in the secondary. A year ago, Harris rushed for 532 yards and eight touchdowns. This year, the Panthers (3-3, 2-2) are trying to spread the carries between Harris and Trae Williams to keep both players fresh. The strategy has enabled Harris to surpass his touchdown total from last season at the midway point of the season.
"Eric feels every time he touches the ball he can take it to the house," King said. "That is what we try to do. We try to put him in situations he can take it to the house. He runs hard. Whether he gets 1 or 2 yards, he is going to give you everything he has got."
Harris said an improved mental approach has allowed him to shoulder a bigger burden. He said he talked with King in the offseason and knew the Panthers had heightened expectations for him. He said he worked hard in the weight room to gain strength and to improve his speed. In fact, he said he gained 10-15 pounds he has since lost through the wear and tear of practice and games. Still, Harris has stayed consistent, rushing for 116 yards in a victory against Ethel, 118 in a loss to Pelahatchie, and 108 in a victory against Montgomery County.
"I really depend on my offensive line," Harris said. "We have a lot of young ones on the offensive line with two or three veterans. I depend on them to help me find a hole or room to run. They have played a big part in me being a superstar on offense."
Harris hopes to play football in college. He said he hasn't attracted any interest from schools, but he hopes to change that by making a push to 2,000 yards and showing coaches he is a playmaker who can handle any role.
King said Harris' mental approach is "a work in progress." He likes Harris' passion and has tried to get him to understand how he can set the example for the rest of the team. He believes the Panthers can accomplish big things if Harris continues to grow into a leader.
"He is just a competitor," King said. "Guys will follow him because he is a leader. We have tried to get him to turn his energy in a positive way."
n New Hope 3, Ridgeland 0: At Columbus, Silvia Sartori had 17 kills, seven aces, and five blocks Monday night to lift the Lady Trojans. Set scores were 25-16, 25-15, 15-15.
Alaina Nickoles had three kills and seven blocks, Darion Bradley had five digs, and Madison Thrasher had four aces and five blocks.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.