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Ryan Harris: All The Talent That Could All Go To Waste

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“What can I say, I love being the big man on campus.”- Ryan Harris, Wednesday, Februrary 1st, 2017, as he announced his commitment to the Fresno State Bulldogs.

 

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Ryan Harris addressing the media on signing day. 

 

Harris has never been a stranger to attention. Deemed a prodigy, he was recruited to De La Salle—California's most prestigious high school for football---at the age of twelve. He received the offer after throwing for six touchdowns in a U14 football game. His father, Benjamin Harris, did not even call his wife before signing the paperwork. For him, a regional manager for bank of America, the eight thousand dollar a year tuition was practically pocket change.

 

“I've always been heavily invested into my son's football career”, the fifty year old Benjamin starts. “I saw early on that he had a special talent, and I know from my life that if you have a talent you need to go and chase it as aggressively as you can. So I signed him up to all the best football camps, I paid his way onto travel teams and private lessons, and clearly it worked. Some other parents, they'd get jealous you know, because my son was better than theirs and because I wasn't afraid to say so. What can I say, I don't believe in coddling. I think it makes kids weak.”

 

From the day he set foot on campus at De La Salle, Harris was a controversial figure. “Well, a lot of people don't know this, but De La Salle used to run a wishbone”, Ryan said in our interview, “but my Dad, he wasn't a fan of that at all. He threatened to pull me out of the school and go down south to St. John Bosco if the offense wasn't changed to better suit me. At first the coach wouldn't back down, but when he saw me practicing, and saw how good I was, he knew he had to do whatever it took to keep me there.”

 

“Ryan and Benjamin were sometimes...difficult.” De La Salle coach Justin Alumbaugh admitted in an interview. “The year they came I'd only just taken over for Bob Ladouceur, and you know, he was a legend. So I wanted to keep his systems in place, and he ran a wishbone, but when we got Ryan, I eventually realized that it wouldn't make sense to keep that offense anymore. So I agreed to the switch. But I'll admit, I wasn't happy about it, and if some freshman tried that on me today, I'll tell him to [expletive] off.”

 

But the offensive gameplan wasn't the only source of drama for the young Ryan. “Yeah, I was a bit of a party boy, even as a freshman” Ryan Harris recollected, “My dad, as long as we were winning he was happy, so I was pretty much given free reign aside from practicing and doing enough homework to keep myself academically eligible.”

 

After a variety of different dramas involving Harris including “misguided” locker room pranks, bullying and academic scandals, coach Alumbaugh had just about had enough. “I told him, “one more slip up and you're gonna be benched for a year.” But did he listen? Of course not”.

 

“In retrospect, yeah, I probably should have controlled him better,” Benjamin Harris told me with a chuckle, “but he was a high school boy, you can't expect them to behave, especially not when they're getting visits from college scouts every other day.”

 

It was true that, even as a sophomore, Ryan had been getting scouted significantly. “Best mechanics I'd ever seen in a sophomore”, Tim Bucknor, a scout for UCLA, told me, “I wanted him bad. But you know, just because someone is talented doesn't mean they are someone you wanna have on your team”.

 

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Harris throws a pass to his former Wide Reciever Sam Hiller-Weeden

 

In August, the first week after the beginning of the semester at De La Salle, the campus was rocked by scandal. That weekend, after a party gone awry, Ryan had been arrested and sent to a juvenile detention center for a night. What exactly happened never went public, but the star quarterback was released just the next day. Rumors circulated that he had been caught doing hard drugs, or maybe petty vandalism. As the rumors flew around, coach Alumbaugh knew he had to act.

 

Alumbaugh sighs, “I went up to Harris in the locker room before one of our practices and said, “I told you, son, one more slip and it's a suspension. You're not gonna suit up this year” I'm pretty sure his Dad actually tried to get in touch with St John Bosco, but they weren't having any of it. They didn't wanna deal with Ryan at all. I sat down with his Dad, and we worked out a deal. Ryan would be suspended the entire regular season. If we'd made the playoffs, he could play then. In all honesty, that was pretty stupid of me to agree to that.”

 

Without Harris, the Spartans weren't nearly as good as in the previous year when they'd lost the state title game. They only just managed to squeak into the playoffs, and facing pressure from the team's boosters, coach Alumbaugh bit the bullet and started Harris. Ryan played lights out the team's opening two games, but ended up losing in the state quarterfinals in Ryan's worst game at De La Salle. “I'm pretty sure Ryan was playing hungover. I wouldn't doubt it one bit” an anonymous teammate of Ryan's told the local news.

 

That off season less teams were scouting Ryan Harris than either of the two years prior. “I realized that his actions off the field were affecting his opportunities on the field,” Benjamin Harris said, “so I shortened his leash. A lot. He didn't do much for those six or so months but practice football and go to school. I wasn't about to let my son waste his god given talent by being stupid.”

 

Ryan Harris played every game that season for De La Salle, including the state championship, which the Spartans won. He tallied 55 touchdowns and 4600 yards in fifteen games. He was rated as the #1 overall recruit in the 2017 class by 247, rivals, and ESPN. He was even given a perfect recruiting score by all three.

 

Ryan Harris received only one scholarship offer from an FBS school. Fresno State.

 

“I think I did push too hard,” Ryan admitted, “once we were winning again, I was able to do whatever again, and I went back to partying all the time. A couple times I was drunk for a visit from a coach, and I'm pretty sure they noticed. Word got around that I had some baggage, and for whatever reason, I guess people don't care how well you can throw if you are too much of a “problem”. But that's fine. Fresno is perfect for me anyways.”

 

At Fresno, a known party school, Ryan Harris is an absolute superstar. He gets invited to every party, can get with any girl, and, according to some reports, even gets some “generous” grades from his professors. He's very publicly bad mouthed opposing teams, players and coaches. But the last two seasons Harris has managed to play extremely well in spite, or perhaps because, of all of this special attention.

 

In the past month, anonymous players on the Fresno State roster have leaked that Harris is, “A toxic presence in the locker room”, but the Fresno State coaches have assured the press that the locker room is under control. Regardless, it's just more negative attention towards Harris. And as Ryan Harris gets closer and closer to the NFL, teams are beginning to look at his behavior, and already it is raising some red flags. “He's the next Onterrio Smith,” one scout reported, without a hint of a smile, “All the talent in the world with a mind too stupid to use it.”

 

Whether Harris will really drop on the NFL big boards due to personal controversy remains to be seen. But it's certainly something worth paying attention to as the season goes on. Perhaps Ryan can redeem himself, or perhaps, like so many talents of days gone by, he'll be lost to history as someone who just could never make it work.

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