Miami QB Harris’ season in limbo
Canes QB hopes to be the starter this season, awaits decision
CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Jacory Harris came into this season believing Miami coaches would struggle deciding if he or Stephen Morris should be the Hurricanes’ starting quarterback.
Well, he was right.
Filling out the season’s first depth chart is going to be an arduously difficult process for Miami. The accusation that Harris is one of 12 current Hurricanes who allegedly broke NCAA rules by accepting gifts from rogue booster Nevin Shapiro is overshadowing just about everything that happened on the field during training camp.
If Miami uses any player later deemed ineligible by the NCAA -- which has been investigating for months -- then the Hurricanes run the risk of having to retroactively forfeit games. If the Hurricanes sit those 12 players, most of whom are presumptive starters and in many cases expected to be NFL draft picks next year, then their chances of winning in 2011 plummet quickly.
New coach Al Golden will tip his hand on where things stand this week, when he releases Miami’s depth chart for the Sept. 5 opener at Maryland.
"We don’t know yet," Golden said Saturday.
So everyone waits -- and in the case of Harris and most of the Miami players, they’re waiting in silence.
Of the 105 players that started training camp on Miami’s roster, four have been made available for questions since the scandal broke last week. Shapiro told Yahoo Sports he provided money, cars, gifts and prostitutes to 72 players between 2002 and 2010. Harris, and the 11 other current players implicated by Shapiro, are practicing, but not talking.
A few days ago, of course, that wasn’t the case. Then came The Scandal, and everything changed.
"You learn from your past. You learn from your mistakes," Harris said earlier this month in an interview with The Associated Press. "Maybe it was God telling me he put those in my life for a reason, put them there so I can learn from them and learn, OK, 'Don’t go here, don’t go there, don’t do that, don’t do this.' "
He wasn’t talking about boosters, parties or anything illicit.
No, with those words, Harris was talking about interceptions -- only interceptions.
He spent the better part of 30 minutes one afternoon just before the start of camp talking about all the things he did to prepare for his senior season with the Hurricanes. He tried to get physically stronger. He watched more film than ever before, especially trying to learn from things that he did wrong on the field in 2009 and 2010, when he threw a combined 32 interceptions.
"Injuries are excuses," Harris said. "But I played with a broken thumb the whole half of my sophomore year. Doggone high ankle sprain a bowl game against Wisconsin. Played with a cast on. Nobody knows that. There’s things you’ll never know, but I’m not going to show them. If you looked back, I never missed a snap of football in my life, I think, other than last year when I got knocked out."
This problem isn’t one he can get through by gritting his teeth and being tough.
Harris is hardly alone in eligibility limbo right now. Shapiro also said Vaughn Telemaque, Ray Ray Armstrong, Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson, Marcus Forston, Olivier Vernon, Marcus Robinson, Adewale Ojomo, Dyron Dye, JoJo Nicholas and Sean Spence -- a list that includes many of the players who were, or are, expected to have huge roles for Miami this season -- accepted benefits from him. If Miami officials have made eligibility determinations on any of those players, no one is saying.
And even if the Shapiro mess hadn’t exploded onto the landscape, Golden said he would have a tough time picking a quarterback anyway. Harris and Morris have split time working with the first team offense throughout training camp.
"Excellent. Excellent," Golden said when asked how Harris has fared in camp, even amid the cloud of scandal. "Nothing short of excellent to this point."
Miami has joined a growing list of schools with major football programs to be investigated by the NCAA for rule-breaking in the past 18 months. Others include Southern California, Ohio State, Auburn, Oregon, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and LSU. The Miami story has been shocking on a number of levels, even though Shapiro began lobbing some accusations -- not even in the same stratosphere of what he told Yahoo Sports -- a year ago.
Shapiro is serving a 20-year sentence for masterminding a $930 million Ponzi scheme, and has been ordered to pay back nearly $83 million to his victims. His attorney said last week that the reason Shapiro went public was to try to find an author and publisher for his planned tell-all book, the proceeds of which he wants to use to repay those who lost money invested with him.
"As far as the University of Miami scandal right now, we don’t know what this convict can prove or can’t prove," ESPN analyst Desmond Howard said Sunday while attending a NASCAR race in Michigan. "But what we can prove is the fact that this booster had unfettered access to the football program for eight years."
Harris was part of the heralded Miami Northwestern High group of eight players who decided to join the Hurricanes after putting together back-to-back 15-0 seasons at the highest level of Florida high school football. His career has been decidedly up and down, with him touted as a Heisman hopeful as a sophomore before having to fight just to keep his starting job at times in 2010 and again this season.
Nothing on the field, though, compares to what’s happening now.
"I’m always going to have a smile on my face," Harris said this month. "You never know something’s wrong with me. And that’s the way I’m going to stay."
That philosophy is going to be tested now like never before.