Trojans’ Harris expects challenge from New Mexico State
TROY – Troy’s defense has been very sound through two games, but senior cornerback Jalen Harris knows a different test is coming this week when the Trojans visit New Mexico State in their Sun Belt Conference opener.
“They’re a pass-first offense,” Harris said, adding that practice will be crucial in Troy’s preparation. “Ninety percent of the time the ball is in the air, so we just have to come to work each day, come to practice and work on our fundamentals – getting our timing right, knocking balls down, intercepting passes. I feel like we’ll have a good game plan going into the game.”
Harris has started both games at cornerback. He has three tackles and one pass breakup. Troy head coach Neal Brown said he is “really proud” of Harris, who moved from wide receiver to the secondary after the 2014 season shortly after Brown was hired.
“Honestly, he may be our most improved player on our whole football team because he’s still relatively new,” Brown said of the former Northview standout. “This is only the third season (on defense). He kind of got thrown in in 2015 and had to play corner. We only had one scholarship corner when I got this job. He’s a selfless kid.”
Harris, a Dothan Eagle Super 12 player, was a dual-threat quarterback at Northview. He accounted for nearly 3,000 yards of offense in 2012, his senior season. He didn’t play defense at all.
“I went and asked him that winter of ’15, I said, ‘Can you make the transition?’ – and he did,” Brown said. “He was selfless about it, really learning the position, obviously.”
Harris said the chance to get on the field made the switch to defense look enticing.
“I had been here two years and I was playing, but not as much as I would like,” the 6-foot, 187-pounder said. “When coach Brown came to me I told him I would try it out. … When I transitioned, that spring I basically got a lot of reps. So it really helped me out going into that summer, and that fall I started. So it was a good transition.”
His athletic ability and a crash course in the position earned him a starting job. He started 10 of Troy’s 12 games, missing two due to injury in 2015.
“It was new concepts,” Harris said. “The main thing at the corner position, it’s the easiest to learn, but it’s the hardest to master. Just mastering each technique and being disciplined with it.”
He said he had plenty of help with the transition.
“I was watching film with a lot of my teammates, just getting in extra work and it helped tremendously,” he recalled. “I really feel like the summer was the most important (time,), where I got the biggest jump from.”
Last season was frustrating. He suffered a bad MCL sprain in his knee and missed the final five games of the season. That’s why Brown still considers Harris so new to the position.
“Last year, he played well early in the year then he gets hurt,” the coach said. “Now, going through all the offseason, all spring, all fall camp, he’s doing a really good job at that boundary corner position for us.”
Harris said he feels “a lot” more comfortable at corner this season. He also smiles when he’s asked who will be the next Troy receiver to be shifted to the defense. Blace Brown and Andre Flakes both started as wideouts at Troy.
“I’m not sure,” he said, looking down. “I’m pretty sure there’ll be someone who’s next in line.”
Next in line for the defense is New Mexico State, with talented quarterback Tyler Rogers.
“They have a lot of guys on the outside that can make plays for the quarterback,” Harris said. “We just have to control their receivers, try to contain them and come prepared. …
“I’m looking forward to it, because I know they’re going to put the ball in the air. We’ll be ready to defend.”