Fullback Eager To Make Fans Forget Milne, Witman ... And A Fumble
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) _ Aaron Harris does not want to be remembered as the guy who fumbled in the end zone in the Kickoff Classic, ending Penn State’s chances for a shutout of Southern Cal.
That’s why the 6-foot, 220-pound redshirt freshman has been anticipating Saturday’s home opener against Louisville so eagerly.
``I would have rather played the next week,″ the fullback said Thursday. ``I’m still getting my feet wet.″
Although a helmet appeared to jar the ball loose, Harris made no excuses.
``It was all my fault. I didn’t totally secure the ball,″ he said. ``As I was getting ready to jump, a helmet came down on top of the ball. But that play is all in the past now.″
Harris, who gained 60 of his 64 yards against the Trojans after halftime in last month’s game, is facing a formidable legacy this season in one of the most demanding positions in coach Joe Paterno’s offensive system. Former Penn State fullbacks Jon Witman and Brian Milne were both drafted in the first four rounds of the 1996 NFL Draft.
Like them, Harris is stocky and bullish, an elusive back with soft hands and rapidly improving blocking skills. He began this year No. 2 on the depth chart behind Jason Sload but energized his bid for the starting role in the Nittany Lions 24-7 victory over USC.
``My running style is if I’m not on the ground _ why stop?″ Harris said.
Also pushing for playing time is Anthony Cleary, who was a defensive end last season as a true freshman.
``We have some guys in the backfield who can run with the ball and block, so none of their talent should be going to waste,″ said Harris, who entered the Kickoff Classic on Penn State’s second play from scrimmage and rushed 15 times _ a huge number for a Lions fullback.
Paterno showed great confidence in Harris by giving him the ball on Penn State’s first offensive play after the fourth-quarter fumble.
``Harris had a good game against Southern Cal,″ he said. ``He showed us he can run with the ball, but he is going to have to pick up on his blocking skills this week.″
Harris, 19, came to State College with impressive high school credentials. A native of Exton, he amassed more than 4,500 yards rushing at suburban Philadelphia’s Downingtown High School.
Harris, who’s enrolled in the College of Engineering, was a Big 33 selection, all-state, Super Prep Top 50 and a Schutt’s All-American after his senior season. He rushed for 1,800 yards and 32 touchdowns and was named the Maxwell Club’s player of the year.
He led Downingtown to the state class AAAA title game that year (against teammate Brandon Short’s victorious McKeesport squad), establishing numerous state records along the way.
``(Short) always brings it up and we joke about it,″ Harris said. ``But we’ve put that away now that we’re together. Now, it’s time to win some more championships together.″