Posted: Tuesday, August 28th 2012 at 3:54pm
Knights' Harris happy to lead Johnson football out of shadows
By Morgan Lee Editor
OAKWOOD -- Cedric Harris had no idea what he was in for on Friday night.
The Johnson fullback figured he’d play a key role in the Knights’ season opener against arch-rival West Hall -- but 38 rushes for 156 yards, one reception for 16 yards and two touchdowns?
“That was unexpected for sure,” said the senior, who accounted for just over 50 percent of Johnson’s offense in the 19-13 win -- a victory that crushed a 12-game losing streak that stretched all the way back into the 2010 season. “(Knights offensive coordinator Caleb) Carmean just found something that worked and went with it.”
Indeed, as Harris helped Johnson control the game’s tempo early and often, only taking one tackle for a loss -- on his final carry of the game.
“He’s the face of this offense right now,” Knights head coach Jason Roquemore said. “He represents the physicality of what we want to bring to the table every game. That’s why he’s a one-way player now. (Harris played offense and defense his first three seasons at Johnson.) We want to keep him fresh for key moments late in games.”
Harris represents far more than a battering ram, however. The senior also has the speed and moves to reach -- and do plenty of damage in -- open space, and yet even that represents only a fraction of what he brings to Johnson’s locker room.
“The biggest thing is his leadership,” Roquemore said. “That’s what jumps off the page at you is his ability to lead.”
For a program looking to turn around some down seasons -- Johnson has not posted a winning record since 2004 -- that kind of guidance is worth its weight in gold.
“We established a leadership council as soon as we got here, and he was one of the five guys named to that group,” Roquemore said of Harris. “Those guys have a lot of accountability, and they’ve done well with that responsibility, helping the team a lot with the day-to-day functions of helping to lead a program, as well as doing big things on game day.”
For Harris’s part it’s a role he accepts with vigor, as the senior begins his final campaign as a Knight.
“Leadership is huge. The guys on that council -- Paul Barker, AJ Millwood, Mason Boders and Jose Martinez -- are good students, they do things the right way, and they’re not afraid to put their heads down and fight in a game,” said Harris, who believes the best route to leadership is by example. “That’s the No. 1 key for every leader. But sometimes you also have to be vocal to get your point across.”
To that end he credits Roquemore and his coaching staff with creating most of the leadership now on display around the program and for helping Johnson to notch its first season-opening victory since 2007.
“It’s all ‘coach Rock’ -- he’s the heart and soul, along with the other coaches, of this team,” Harris said. “He’s very vocal; he’s not afraid to speak his mind. He’s just here to coach and do it well, and he’s done an amazing job.”
The plaudits don’t stop there either, as Harris also praised his offensive line -- which cleared plenty of paths for the fullback on Friday.
“That’s the best I’ve ever seen them perform,” Harris said of the unit, which paved the way for 298 yards rushing for Johnson in the win. “My offensive guard, Mason Borders, told me repeatedly, ‘just follow me.’ My other offensive guard, John Averils did the same thing. It was just a great game for all of those guys.”
“We never predetermine the amount of carries any back is going to get,” Roquemore said. “We feel we’ve got a good combination of backs, and they’re all capable. When they started keying on Cedric we had Luis step up and rip off a big run.”
Now Harris and his backfield mates are focused on maintaining their impressive start.
“We’re going to try to keep the ball rolling,” Harris said. “That win was big for the younger guys on the team to give them something solid to grab on to. It’s all about the right mindset. ‘Coach Rock’ has gotten us into that right mindset, and everybody sees that now. He tells us to forget about the past.”
To an extent, that now includes last Friday, as Johnson knows it cannot rest on the laurels of the breakthrough win with Oglethorpe County looming in this week’s contest.
“This week we’ve talked about a saying -- I think Lou Holtz said it -- ‘if you’re thinking about yesterday, you did nothing today,’ ” Roquemore said.
That might be just as well for Harris, who needed some time to recover from last week’s heavy workload -- not that he wouldn’t be glad to do even more this week.
“I was exhausted. But I loved it, just seeing what I could do with the ball every time I got it,” Harris said.
It’s a safe bet the Johnson fullback will be seeing plenty more of it as the season continues.
Beyond that, Harris hopes to play collegiately.
"Playing college football is my No. 1 goal," Harris said. "But I also want to make sure I get a good education."
Regardless of where that path leads, Harris knows he'll find his way back to Oakwood at some point in the future -- watching the program that he hopes he has played a key role in turning around, and one that he is certain Roquemore is re-defining.
"I'll be back to see what 'coach Rock' can do with the younger guys and watch him be the great coach that I know he is," Harris said.
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