D.J. Harris stands tall after his sixth sprint, chest heaving, gasping for air, shoulder pads drenched with sweat.
Everybody else is already gone — in the locker room and on their way home, yet he stays behind.
He’s running gassers with the team’s safeties, who are running as a punishment for mistakes during practice.
D.J. Harris isn’t a safety; he’s a middle linebacker.
He didn’t commit those mistakes, in fact he had one of his better practices today.
He’s running because he’s a leader. He’s running because he knows he needs to get extra conditioning in, because he’s a competitor. He’s running because he’s a star.
“He’s everything you can ask for in a player,” linebackers coach Luis Morales said. “He comes prepared every day, he goes hard every play, he’s very productive on the field… that’s all you can really ask for.”
Harris did everything and more last year, wracking up a school record 138 tackles. He was the anchor of a defense that led Langham Creek to its most successful season in program history.
“It meant a lot,” Harris said. “We all had such a great bond last year and it showed on the field, playing for each other.”
For Harris, that greatness came out of a major setback when he broke his tibia as a sophomore, coming back with a vengeance.
“It impacted me a lot,” Harris said. “It was a lot of mental and physical things I had to overcome…it really drove me to do better the following year.”
Despite Harris’ dominance last season, he holds only one collegiate offer — from Southern University. It is one that Harris holds in high regards.
“I’ve been waiting on that moment for a long time,” Harris said. “For them to be the first school to reach out and give me an offer, it meant a lot.”
Never the less, when it comes to college scouts two words seem to follow him where ever he goes: too short.
At the collegiate level the average linebacker is 6-foot-2 or taller. Despite this, Harris remains adamant in letting his play do the talking.
“5’10 or 5’11, whatever you want to list me; I’ve broke the record (tackles in a season), I’ve been a part of the team that had the best season at Langham, basically my stats show it all,” Harris said.
“I don’t have to say too much… I still think that I’m one of the best defensive players in the nation, but I just have to come out and prove it time and time. I just come out and play my game, and my game will speak for everything.”
Regardless of the outside world’s opinion of Harris, his teammates have taken notice of him not only as a player, but as a leader, electing him as one of four team captains for the season.
“It meant a lot, it showed that this team has faith in me to lead them,” Harris said. “My team really believes in me, so I have to step up as a leader, and do what I have to do in order to lead this team in the right direction.”
This season Harris has set lofty goals for not only himself, but the team as well.
“My personal goal is to beat the tackle record in a game (27), and to win state, and to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke,” Harris said.
As if leading a team with high expectations wasn’t enough, Harris is also carrying on a family legacy of greatness at Langham.
“My uncle has his own record, the rushing yards record. My dad was a Defensive Tackle, he was the captain of his team,” Harris said. “I want to do better than them. I want to be the one who really represented the school in the family.”
In the end, Harris has a future in mind more profound than just football.
“To take care of my family… that’s really the end goal for me,” Harris said. “To be successful in life period. It’s more than just the game.
D.J. Harris walks into a silent, empty locker room and packs his equipment up; from the grass stained pants to the soaking wet under-shirt. He’s the first one in and the last one out. As he walks down the athletic hallway, and out the building he walks down a path, his path to stardom.
Drake Drymond is a student at Langham Creek HS and a member of the VYPE U Ambassador Program. To learn more about how you can become a VYPE U Ambassador at your school...