Very few of the 1.1 million high school football players in the United States have the skill to play football at the Division I level. Coaches from colleges across the country fight tooth and nail for the limited number of talented recruits. Even fewer players have the athletic ability to play multiple positions. Enter the world of T.J. Harrell.
He recently joined us on Spartan Nation Radio and the young man was amazing.
To say that undecided class of 2014 recruit T.J. Harrell is a highly sought-after prospect would be a major understatement. The high school junior from Tampa, Florida currently has 33 scholarship offers from schools located across the country. The cousin of former Raiders defensive back Jeremy Ware, Harrell could attend school in any one of 16 different states and play at any one of five positions.
“I can play anything from safety to linebacker. I can play all levels of the defense: safety, linebacker, defensive end. I can get on offense and run the routes like your best receiver, hit the holes just as your best running back,” Harrell said of the positions he plays.
From simply watching Harrell’s highlight videos, one can easily see why he is such a heralded recruit. Primarily seen at running back and safety, Harrell displays surprising speed. Though he was only clocked at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash, the well-rounded athlete from Tampa Catholic High School has quickness on the football field that cannot be measured. At running back, he uses his speed to elude defenders and break out of holes. At cornerback and safety, Harrell uses his quickness to cover open ground between him and the ball carrier and stick with opposing wide receivers.
“Every time I step up to a wide receiver to jam him, he always talks a lot of trash, saying my feet are too big or I’m too big, I can’t cover them. Until I put my hand in their chest and they get off the line and I’m running with them the whole time. They look at me different, like, ‘Man, he’s a thief.’”
Harrell also has fluid hips that allow him to stay with his opponent every step of the way. “To play this game, you have to have hips,” he declared. “[I] work on that a lot every day, from track workouts to football workouts. That’s one of the main things I work on.” Another characteristic that sets him apart is his love of contact. Few defensive backs like to hit, but Harrell is an exception. “I love sticking my head in there,” he affirmed. “[Playing] safety is annoying at times because I can’t stick my head in, and I see my linebackers making the play before I get there.”
Surprisingly strong for his 6’1, 200 pound frame, one would think that Harrell lives in the weight room. But the youngster is not a gym rat: he gets his strength from a different source. “Where I feel like I get my strength from is the food we eat. We [the Harrell family] eat everything, literally from possums to raccoons, pigeons, rabbits, frog legs. I had kangaroo one time,” Harrell revealed. “We eat everything. I will eat anything.”
While the recruit has all of the physical characteristics needed to succeed at the collegiate level, Harrell also possesses great character. Many at Tampa Catholic bring up his character at first mention of the junior. “I would say it starts with [my] family,” Harrell told Hondo S. Carpenter Sr. on Spartan Nation Radio. “My mom and my dad, when they raised me, raised an upstanding young man. But it also comes from within, because a lot of people can change sometimes.” Harrell would go on to divulge his secret to staying humble. “One thing that keeps me well-grounded is cartoons. If I can watch cartoons, I’m really happy.”
In seeing Harrell play like a cartoon character, college coaches are happy, too. The youngster has received scholarship offers from all over the country. Among the 33 schools in the mix for the talented athlete is Michigan State, the lone program representing the state of Michigan. Head coach Mark Dantonio and Co. have heavily pursued Harrell, talking and visiting with him as often as NCAA rules and available time will allow. With 16 states to pick from, Harrell could certainly choose to go anywhere. So why is Michigan State so intriguing to him? “The simple answer would be my cousin, Jeremy Ware,” Harrell said. “He told me so many nice things about it. I can’t do anything but go off of what [he says]. He’s family, he wouldn’t tell me anything wrong.”
Ware, a former standout cornerback for the Spartans, is certainly a major factor in Harrell’s interest in MSU. But the NFLer’s opinion is not the only reason that Michigan State is on the short list of schools Harrell is considering. “The coaching staff is great. I talked with Coach Dantonio just two days ago, and Coach [Harlon] Barnett was just at my practice yesterday,” Harrell said recently. “This is an awesome coaching staff that Michigan State has.”
A man of faith, T.J. deeply considers how each coaching staff treats that subject so dear to himself. Dantonio’s staff is filled with men of faith, a fact that warms Harrell’s heart. “I’m looking for that in a school. I’m looking for a team and coaching staff that’s going to be really spiritual and go to church,” Harrell explained. “Coach Barnett told me that he goes to church every Sunday.”
Those eager to hear Harrell’s college choice, and those rooting for him to pick the Green and White, should not hold their breath for a decision soon. “This process is going to end pretty late,” Harrell declared. “You have all of these players who commit, decommit, commit, decommit. The word commitment means something. It means you have to commit to that school. The word decommit shouldn’t even be involved in this high school process. It’s going to be a late decision. I’m going to sit back, weigh my options, take my visits, [and] talk to my family, friends and coaches about it.”
Harrell’s future is one filled with promise. In today’s football landscape, multi-positional players are valuable and rare. Harrell’s pure talent and character is sure to get him far in life, be it in football or in whatever profession he enters. Regardless of the college he chooses, Spartan Nation would like to extend its best wishes to the young man.