When asked what emotion he expects to feel when he’s running through the smoke this Saturday, Jacory Harris had no intention of downplaying the moment.
“I might shed a tear,” he said. “I’m so happy to be back on the field. I’m really ready to run out of that tunnel with my teammates. They’re the ones who have been by our sides throughout everything that’s occurred over the past couple of months.”
The past five weeks, and really the past four years, have been anything but predictable for Harris. After battling with Robert Marve for the quarterback position his freshman year and failing to find consistent success for the past two seasons, the senior quarterback has proved to be durable despite his lanky frame.
After hurdling his latest obstacle as a Miami Hurricane – a one-game suspension for accepting improper benefits – he enters Saturday’s game against Ohio State as the starter, with perspective, not ego, dripping from every comment.
“Being without football for one week really set in my mind that this is something that I want to do,” Harris said. “I don’t want to be on the sidelines; I want to be in the game and ready to play.”
Harris’ return coincides with those of four other players: Adewale Ojomo, Travis Benjamin, Sean Spence and Marcus Forston. Each player is expected to start or at least play a significant portion of the game against Ohio State after serving their suspensions. Ojomo and Forston are the only reinstated players not named the outright starters at their positions.
Coach Al Golden stated that Harris would have started the season opener against Maryland had it not been for his suspension. While allowing both Harris and sophomore Stephen Morris to compete for the position during the summer, Golden saw Harris improve during the offseason.
“Sometimes we don’t let people grow, we don’t let them develop,” Golden said. “We just want to go back and look at the things that they did wrong. Let’s look back at the things he’s done right.”
He decided it was time for him to make the most of his last opportunity.
“I really believe Jacory’s going to show us all Saturday night. He’s done a great job and I just want him to relax and play his game, not make it bigger than it is and do what he’s been doing since we’ve been here,” Golden said. “I’m excited for Jacory and I know, in my heart, that he deserves this opportunity Saturday night.”
As for the game itself, Ohio State has become just as familiar with the NCAA Infractions Committee as the Canes. Eight Buckeyes, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor (who left the team in the offseason), were suspended for multiple games this 2011 season.
With a good deal of negativity surrounding the game, some have called the integrity of the game into question. But at least for Golden, he doesn’t see the issues plaguing each team having any effect on how the game itself, or the programs involved, will be viewed.
“That’s not going to erase the tradition,” Golden said. “That’s not going to erase all the great players that have played here, it’s not going to erase what the institutions mean. It’s certainly not going to diminish what it means to our fans, alumni and football fans in Miami and South Florida.”
Although the Hurricanes lost to the Buckeyes 36-24 in Columbus last year, technically that never happened. Ohio State vacated the entire 2010 season after NCAA investigations found multiple players to be ineligible for the season, including Pryor, but for Harris and his teammates last year’s contest remains quite real.
“Last year we did a lot of things that killed us,” Harris said. “We were in a position to pull away from those guys [at one point]. We had the momentum, but we just made mistakes. As long we take care of the small things, I feel like we have a good chance with this team.”
This year’s Buckeyes received some good news on Tuesday with the NCAA reinstating three of the seven players still suspended. Running back Jordan Hall, corner back Travis Howard and safety Corey Brown will all be eligible for Saturday night’s prime-time matchup. Though four Ohio State players still remain ineligible and aren’t expected back until Oct. 15, both Hall and Howard were likely starters entering the year.
Senior quarterback Joe Bauserman, 26, is slated to start, but a cameo from freshman Braxton Miller would be far from unexpected. Miller’s athleticism gives the Buckeyes an offensive dimension akin to Pryor’s team in the recent past, which may be utilized if the Miami secondary is successful in stymieing Bauserman’s more traditional pocket-passing attack.
While Saturday’s game will undoubtedly be the subject of national media and fanbases focusing on the problems that lie on the periphery for both teams, Harris offered one last cliche that sums up not only the game, but possibly the entirety of his Hurricane career:
“It’s going to be a street fight.”