FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The 2017 season was a real shame for Arkansas football. The season didn’t go well, that’s a given. But on top of that, when a team is bad, the rest of the world can neglect the quality that actually exists on the team.
That’s the case with linebacker De’Jon Harris.
On a 4-8 team, one with a historically bad defense, the players on that side of the ball are not going to get a lot of recognition. Or, if they do, it’s mostly of the negative variety. A lot of such notice would be deserved.
Not with Harris, though. The sophomore linebacker took a massive leap in development from his freshman year. That first season, 2016, he saw bits of time here and there, mostly filling in for Dre Greenlaw when he was injured.
But Arkansas position coach Vernon Hargreaves wanted to make a point of not rushing Harris into things. He was clearly the best freshman linebacker on the roster — and one of the top four on the entire team — but he had some gaps, and made some mistakes.
Hargreaves baby-walked him that first season. All the while, both the coach and Harris had an idea of what was to come in the future. Four-year starter Brooks Ellis would be gone in Harris’ sophomore season. The job would be his to lose.
Harris didn’t just take the spot, he owned it. Harris was better in his sophomore season than Ellis was in any of his four, and Ellis was not a bad player. Harris played in all situations, and almost never left the field.
That led to some giant numbers. His 115 tackles were, at least, the second-most an Arkansas individual has had since 2008 — only Martrell Spaight’s 128 in 2013 were more. Not only that, but Harris’ 8.5 tackles-for-loss led the team, just two off Spaight’s totals his senior season, too.
There is a reason Spaight’s name continues to come up. Harris is quite similar. And while it’s hard to say Harris can be a ‘breakout’ player after being the team’s best defender in 2017, we are calling him that, anyway.
The 2018 season should be the one in which the rest of college football knows the name ‘Scoota.