Missouri safety finds success at new school

Friday, October 16, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Missouri safety Jarrell Harrison runs drills during Missouri football practice Tuesday on Kadlec Field.

COLUMBIA — When Jarrell Harrison was a senior in high school, his plan was to play quarterback for his hometown University of Nevada, Las Vegas Rebels.

Four years later, he is more than 1,000 miles away playing for Missouri. And he’s playing safety.

Harrison was a run-first quarterback at Palo Verde High School in Las Vegas. He was named the Southern Nevada offensive player for his senior year.  He was also an all-state cornerback, but quarterback was his primary position. Low scores on the SAT prevented him from honoring his commitment to play quarterback at UNLV.

When Harrison arrived at Reedley (Calif.) Community College, he wanted to play wide receiver so he could still make plays with the ball. He scored 13 rushing touchdowns his senior year in high school and wanted to continue taking the ball into the end zone.

“I felt like I had pretty good hands,” Harrison said. “I could make some plays in the passing game.”

His coach at Reedley had a different plan.

“I remember my first practice,” Harrison said. “They moved me to safety. I was like, ‘What?’ But I played a little corner in high school, so it wasn’t that much of a difference.”

Harrison said the on-field transition wasn’t too difficult, but he had a difficult time not being on offense.

“I thought I was a legit quarterback or wide receiver,” he said. “I felt like I could play any position on offense. I guess at the time, they felt like I would be a good defensive back.”

After a season at Reedley, Harrison transferred to City College of San Francisco. Before his first season there, a scrimmage against a future Pac-10 quarterback gave him more confidence in his ability to play safety.

“We were doing spring ball, and we were doing seven-on-seven drills,” Harrison said. “I ended up with two interceptions off of Jeremiah Masoli, the Oregon quarterback. He was at San Francisco with me. And I ended up with two interceptions off of him, and I thought, ‘You know what, this thing might work out.’”

When his junior college career ended, Harrison still had an offer to play at UNLV. He decided to reopen his search. He chose to play at Missouri so he could play against big-time opponents in the Big 12.

“Coming out of junior college, it’s kind of different,” he said. “Because in high school, you’ve got four years and you want to stay home and be around the family. Coming out of junior college, I’ve got two years. I want to make an impact wherever I can and play on the big stage. So that’s why I came here, to play games like Nebraska, Texas. So that’s why I came where I am.”

Since arriving at Missouri in January, Harrison has worked his way into the playing rotation at safety. He even got to play in front of friends and family in his home state when the team played at Nevada. Cornerback Kevin Rutland said he saw better play out of Harrison when he was playing in his home state.

“I guess he was so excited,” Rutland said. “His tackling was powerful. His coverage was on point. I guess it was just going back home and playing in front of his family and friends really turned him on.”

The Missouri depth chart lists Harrison and Kenji Jackson as interchangeable starters at strong safety. Both see playing time.

“We’ve got four guys, five guys fighting for two spots,” Harrison said. “It only bodes for competition.”

Both safety positions list two interchangeable starters. Jasper Simmons and Hardy Ricks are interchangeable at free safety.

“It helps us all stay fresh, rotating us in and out,” Jackson said. “It’s worked good so far. I don’t know if they’re going to continue to do it that way, but if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

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