Nov. 18, 2003
By Katie Stuhldreher
Freshman offensive tackle Ryan Harris is a new and relatively inexperienced addition to the Fighting Irish, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he plays and handles himself. Harris has definitely made an impact early on in his collegiate football career, becoming only the third true freshman to start on the offensive line in the history of Notre Dame. Harris moved into the starting rotation against Pittsburgh and only continues to improve and mature as the season progresses.
Harris had an illustrious high school football career as the All-American did not allow a single sack in his last two seasons at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Minn.. Several other players from Cretin-Derham Hall have joined the Irish including junior fullback Rashon-Powers Neal and sophomore tight end Marcus Freeman.
“It really helped to know some people from high school and to realize the character of guys that come to Notre Dame,” Harris commented about his Irish teammates from Cretin-Derham Hall.
Harris also participated in the 2003 US Army All-American Bowl along with eight other Notre Dame recruits including quarterback Brady Quinn, defensive end Victor Abiamiri and running back Travis Thomas. Harris was one of the 78 high school players selected from a pool of 400 across the nation to play in this bowl.
Given his impressive performance at Cretin-Derham Hall, Harris was heavily recruited by a number of Division I football programs, including Notre Dame’s long-standing rival USC. Yet after attending the Notre Dame-Michigan game last season, there was no question in his mind that there really is “nowhere else but Notre Dame.”
“Coming to Notre Dame, I realized that I loved everything about this place: the fans, the atmosphere, the school, the coaches, the football, the buildings, everything that is Notre Dame,” Harris reflected.
Harris admitted that starting out as a freshman on a Division I college football team was difficult, but with the help of his teammates, especially junior offensive guard Dan Stevenson, he quickly moved into the starting rotation.
“The most difficult thing to get used to was the speed and knowledge of the game. Game plans, game plans, game plans. The only thing that isn’t different between the high school games and college games are the pads and the pigskin,” Harris commented.
The coaching staff took a gamble when they started Harris against Pittsburgh, but he more than proved his abilities as he was an integral element in helping the Irish attain a season-high 352 rushing yards.
“My first college game was awesome. I felt like a pro, playing at night with all the lights on at Heinz Field. It was a perfect way to start,” Harris recollected.
Although Harris surpassed the expectations of many football fans across the nation, he still strives to meet his own high standards. After discouraging losses to Boston College, USC and Florida State, the Irish offensive line pulled together to contribute to a thrilling last-minute victory over Navy and a convincing win over BYU.
“It was great to rise above all the pressure and win, but we still need to improve our consistency to succeed,” Harris noted.
Harris feels that his biggest contribution to the Irish offense is his day-to-day effort both on the off the field. With this kind of commitment, and a major shift in momentum after the win over Navy, Harris is confident that Notre Dame can only improve.
“I can feel it when I’m running out of the tunnel in my blue and gold onto the field on game days. We’re going to have two championships by the time I graduate,” Harris added confidently.