From scout to senior starter

From the age of eight years old, Arkansas Razorback senior free safety Matt Harris has been told that he has the natural ability to be a good leader. Stepping up as this years’ leader of the secondary, Harris has become one of the team’s key players.

Spending the majority of his first two seasons in 2005 and 2006 working as a member of the Arkansas scout team defense, Harris now finds it a reward to play such a vital role in the backfield.

“Coming from my first year redshirting and my second year running the scout team, I am now not only starting in the SEC but being a leader in our backfield,” Harris said. “It is definitely an honor for me coming from basically running other teams’ defenses to now running my defense for the Arkansas Razorbacks.”

Harris credits his recent success to his time spent with the scout team where he learned the game, spending most of his time executing other teams’ defenses.

“Coach (Reggie) Herring (former Arkansas defensive coordinator) told me I would be a great safety by the way I played against the starting offense on scout team,” Harris said. “Week in and week out, I went up against the best we had to offer; Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Casey Dick and Marcus Monk. For two years, it was like playing a real game every single day in my mind. Every day I got used to the speed of the game so now that I’m out there playing it’s like second nature to me.”

During the 2007 season, Harris earned snaps against Troy, North Texas, Chattanooga and Tennessee. He had three tackles for the season, one solo and two assists. He had an assisted tackle against Troy, and a solo and an assisted stop against North Texas.

In 2008, Harris played in all 12 games with starts against Western Illinois, Florida, Auburn and Mississippi State. He ended the season listed as the starter ahead of Tramain Thomas. He led the secondary and tied for third on the team with 56 tackles, including 46 solo stops, which ranked third on the team. He was fourth on the team with five tackles for a loss of 17 yards. His one interception of the season came in the 25-22 win over No. 20 Auburn.

In the opener against Western Illinois, and in his first start, he had a team-high 10 tackles with a one-yard tackle for loss. In the 30-23 victory over No. 19 Tulsa, he had a season and game-high 13 tackles with 12 solo stops and two TFLs for four yards. He also broke up one pass and made nine stops against Mississippi State, all solos. In the season-ending victory over LSU, he had seven tackles with two TFLs for 12 yards.

To begin the 2009 season, Harris has started seven of the eight games played. He has accounted for a total of 44 tackles, including 30 solo stops and 14 assisted. In addition to producing on the field, Harris has also adjusted nicely to his leadership role on the defense and with the secondary, specifically.

“It’s a fifth year responsibility that I didn’t have to think twice about,” Harris said. “I’ve been here longest and I know how the game is played. I know what I have been through so I can use my experience to help out the younger guys. It’s a responsibility I knew from the beginning of the season that someone would have to step up and take over, and I just knew that I wanted to be the guy to do it.”

It is undeniable that Harris received much of his leadership ability from his father, former Dallas Cowboy, Cliff Harris. The elder Harris played football at Ouachita Baptist in Arkadelphia, Ark., before going on to appear in five Super Bowls and six Pro Bowls as a member of the Cowboys. Matt is also the nephew of former Razorback defensive back Tommy Harris.

“Dad has always said there are big things in store for me,” Harris said. “My whole life, he has given me nothing but support and positive influence. He has been pushing me and hoping for me to become a great leader. I’ve always known that I have something huge to live up to and it’s something I’ve been constantly working for. My dad has passed along a lot of good qualities to me and I know he’s proud.

“He is loving it. He plays through me week in and week out. Every since I was in pee wee league it’s been that way and still now that I’m playing in the competition of the SEC. First, I am his son and he is Dad to me. He’s proud of me no matter what. From scout team to starting in the backfield, he just loves the progress I’ve made. He’s all smiles. He can barely talk during the games sometimes but he loves it.”

It is now Harris’ fifth and final season as a Razorback. Over his years, he has proved to be a hard working, determined player and he has found success as a member of the Hogs’ defense.

“I hope that I can leave a legacy behind that inspires the guys to have no fear when you’re out on the field, to give it 100 percent, and most importantly to enjoy it and have fun,” Harris said. “I hope to leave an understanding that on game days you have to be serious but stay cool and keep your head and go out with 100 percent confidence that you will win that game.”