Sticking together - Harris' Family and Friends Keep Him Grounded
By Scott Ellis
Originally published Oct. 25, 2007 in the BC game programEvery afternoon during the week, the Virginia Tech Hokies walk out onto the practice field from the locker room and see a message written in large bold letters on a sign placed on the watchtower in the middle of the practice field - None of us is as good as ALL of us. Head coach Frank Beamer and his staff preach this message on a daily basis to the players, hoping that they fully grasp the meaning and gel together as a team. No one can excel on the gridiron without the support of his teammates. For junior Victor "Macho" Harris, the nationally televised primetime game against a ranked Atlantic Coast Conference foe Clemson served as the perfect reminder of how important relying on each other is to achieving success. The starting cornerback and special teams contributor made two pivotal plays in the first half that set the stage for the 41-23 victory over the Tigers. In the first half, the 6-0, 203-pound athlete made a diving grab for an interception and then about nine minutes later received a kickoff several yards deep in the end zone, only to break left and sprint up the left sideline all the way for the score. After a performance like that, do not expect Harris to take the spotlight away from the team. If not for Vince Hall deflecting the pass, Harris would never have been in position to make his second interception of the season. On the kick-off return, Harris would not have been able to score with his speed if he was the only man on the field for Tech. "Before the kickoff return, we met in a huddle and were talking and coach (Billy) Hite called the play," Harris said. "I then asked the guys to lead me to the promised land, and that's exactly what they did with great blocking." That confidence and trust in one another is what the coaching staff wants to see as both the experienced and inexperienced players continue to build a rapport on the field as they move toward their goal of winning the ACC Championship. For Harris though, relying on others for support and assistance is nothing new. A PARADE All-American in high school from Highland Springs, Va., and ranked as one of the top athletes and all-around players in the country by various football publications, Harris was heavily recruited by Virginia Tech and others to showcase his athleticism on either side of the ball. As a senior, he led the Richmond metro area in rushing with 225 carries for 2,346 yards, averaging 10.4 yards per carry and scoring 27 touchdowns. He also started playing as a defensive back his final year and ended up with 22 tackles and three interceptions. The potential to get overwhelmed and sidetracked by the accolades existed, but following a sophomore year at Tech where he led the team with four interceptions and a strong start to the junior season with a touchdown return on defense and special teams, Harris is still standing on firm ground, a fact for which he cannot thank enough people. "I really want to give personal thanks to the coaches," Harris said. "They, and especially my parents and family, have kept me grounded. In high school, I was getting a lot of publicity, and I'm talking from every direction. If my mother and father didn't raise me to be a levelheaded kid, I would have been easily sidetracked. Now that I'm away from my family, the coaches take that job now, so I want to thank all of them." Harris' relationship with his family, especially his mother, Maritza, has always been a source of inspiration in his life on and off the field. She was always there at his high school football games cheering him on as she videotaped her son. Sadly though, just 10 days after Beamer first stepped in the Harris family's home on a recruiting visit and five days after Harris committed to the Hokies, she fainted at home on Christmas Day and passed away at the hospital, never being able to see Harris wear the Virginia Tech uniform. In late September, controversy surrounded a college football coach lashing out during a post-game press conference at a reporter for basically labeling one of the players as a "mama's boy" and not being tough as a result. When asked about his thoughts on the story, Harris could only laugh because he could never see the connection between being a "mama's boy" and having a lack of toughness. He does not hide the fact that he is indeed a "mama's boy," a phrase he even had tattooed on his neck to symbolize his relationship with his doting mother. "She was my closest friend, and I'll show the whole world my tattoo." Harris said. "I have no shame or doubt because I loved my mother. We had this type of bond where it doesn't matter what others think about us, and that's why I had the tattoo." Furthermore, the tattoo has provided an inner-strength and a simple reminder that he's being watched over. "It makes me stronger just to know that I have an angel looking down on me," Harris said. "The tattoo on my neck is like my shield and helps me from all aspects." Harris wears another shield of sorts in the form of two bicep bands with the initials "BQ" on them. They are in honor of Brett Quarterman, a Blacksburg native who died in a house fire in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this year. Quarterman was a big Hokie fan and a big fan of Harris. "A friend of his before the season started told me I was one of Brett's favorite players at Virginia Tech and wanted me to represent him on the field," Harris said. "I told him no problem and that I would love to do that. I talked to his mother. I told her that I'll wear them to show them that I support them and the family." Harris felt an immediate connection to the family because he too had been personally affected by the dangers of fire. Coincidently during Beamer's visit, a grease fire broke out in the kitchen and with his mom at the store, Harris suffered third-degree burns trying to put out the fire. He still has small scars on his face and skin grafts on his right forearm as a reminder of that day. The tragedy of losing a loved one made the Quarterman family's story even more heartfelt. With the April 16 tragedy, the existent pain of losing his mother and the story of Quarterman, Harris has found a higher purpose this season beyond just the pride of doing well on the field to help the team accomplish its goals. "It elevates my game to a different level just because I have more on the line," Harris said. "I have more that I'm playing for, such as my mother, my family, the team, the university, the fans, the community. It means a lot because when you make a play and after the play when you're done, you know that you did it for a good reason." Of course, playing for a good cause does not automatically lead to victories and individual success. For Harris, continuing to improve on a daily basis is important to being able to represent his loved ones and friends with pride. "Playing cornerback, you have to have a lot of technique in order to compete against great athletes," Harris said. "My main focus has been reading my progressions better. Coach (Torrian) Gray always coaches us to read our progressions, so I'm trying to be a little bit more disciplined in making my reads on every play." Since joining the football staff last season as the defensive backfield coach, Gray has been impressed with the progress that Harris has made as a cornerback at the collegiate level. "He's always been a great athlete, but as far as growing at the position and understanding the position better, he's so much further ahead than he was a year ago," Gray said. "The great thing for us is he's smart enough to realize that he's a great athlete, but we have some good receivers on our team that he goes up against every day in practice, so when he doesn't do things that are fundamentally sound, he gets beat," Gray added. "That makes my job easier to hammer to him why we have to go through our progressions and be perfect in our technique. He really bought into that, and that's why he's been able to make progress." Gray, a three-time All-BIG EAST defensive back at Virginia Tech (1992-96), returned to his alma mater as a coach and has been influential in guiding both Harris and Brandon Flowers to be considered one of the top duos in the country at the cornerback position. Gray has been helped by the fact that Flowers, who was named a first-team preseason All-American by The Sporting News, and Harris have become great friends on the team and have developed a rivalry to push each other on the field. "It's a friendly competition between us two," Flowers said. "Both of us always want to make plays, and it doesn't matter what kind - interceptions, big hits, tackles, pass breakups ... We both want to be the best at Virginia Tech, so we're driving each other." Harris echoes that sentiment but sees himself almost as the pupil right now with Flowers. "He's a great person and role model," Harris said. "Off the field, we're close like brothers. He teaches me a lot because all of his life, he played cornerback. All of my life, I kind of played running back, safety here and there, but other than that, I was pretty new. I've been learning from him techniques and basically how a true corner is supposed to play. He has definitely helped improve my game." For Flowers, all he tries to do is share his own experiences and give advice on the little things that Harris can always work on, like being better at reading receivers. "Looking at film and studying the receivers is important," Flowers said. "He's been getting very close on the ball, and he's having a really good year, an All-American type year in my eyes." The season is far from over, and a big game tonight against Boston College could dictate how the year is remembered. Harris is excited though to take on the challenge and knows that he and his teammates will fight hard to the end, win or lose. "Being on the field is a blessing, and I cherish it every day," Harris said. "Every now and then, you'll have your days when you struggle, but I stop and say to myself, 'You have to cherish this because it can be taken away from you at any moment.' In fact, I told Brandon that same thing recently. At times, things can get overwhelming, and we can lose focus on what's important, so that's my mindset on how I approach it every day. "In high school, I always wanted to play D-I football, but I didn't know it would be like this," he added. "Now that I'm here, it's a great feeling. The community and the people around here, they love us. They support us no matter what. I feel very blessed to be in this situation."