COLUMBIA — Jarrell Harrison can hear the thud of pads hitting the turf. He can feel the air swirl through his helmet, his momentum pushing him forward into a collision.
For an unlucky opponent, Harrison’s tackle is a painful jolt. For Harrison, it feels great.
Harrison, a senior safety on the Missouri football team, tore the meniscus in his right knee during preseason camp. He recovered from surgery quickly and returned to the field for the Illinois game, the same day that free safety Jasper Simmons suffered a similar injury. Harrison had been playing as the second-string strong safety during the preseason, so Simmons’ injury gave him a chance to move over and start at free safety. With Simmons’ return looming, Harrison will be fighting for playing time in the weeks to come.
Harrison’s Sept. 4 return was sooner than many of his coaches and teammates expected, but he thinks he timed the return just right, despite the fact that such a quick recovery is anything but typical.
“You know, I was really shocked when I recovered so fast,” Harrison said. “Sometimes it can take a lot longer.”
Although many players complain about the time it takes to recover from an injury, Harrison said his time on the sidelines did not pass nearly as slowly as he thought it might. He said that though missing even one practice does bother him, he felt like he was so focused on getting healthy that he made the time go by quickly.
Harrison also said that once he returned, he didn’t feel as different physically as he expected.
“I feel real good out there,” Harrison said. “You know, I don’t feel out of shape. My speed is good. All the tackles are going well.”
In his first game back, Harrison saw limited playing time, but he started against both McNeese State and San Diego State. He made eight tackles in each of those games, and he said each one was a positive sign.
“What sticks out, I guess, is that my tackles feel solid when I’m out there making hits,” Harrison said.
Harrison's quick return has impressed starting strong safety Kenji Jackson, who said Harrison looks faster than he did before the injury.
“He’s been doing great,” Jackson said. “It’s like he hasn’t missed a beat.”
Jackson and Harrison, who spent most of the preseason battling for the starting strong safety job, have formed a close relationship. Jackson said having Harrison on the field with him was an easy transition, and Harrison agreed.
“Kenji and me, we communicate real well out there,” Harrison said. “We’ve played together enough, it’s real easy.”
Jackson said that most, if not all, of their communication is nonverbal.
“We work good together because we don’t verbally say anything,” Jackson said. “Sometimes we can make a little hand signal, but that might be it. That, in itself, just kind of speaks for itself. We’re good together.”
But Harrison and Jackson’s teamwork might come to an end soon. The depth chart lists Simmons as questionable for Saturday’s game against Miami of Ohio, and Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said he won’t know until the end of the week whether Simmons will be ready for the game.
“We’re looking at him,” Pinkel said. “Is he doubtful, probable, maybe? I have no idea. We’ll find that out in the next couple days. He’s done really well with his rehab.”
Simmons, on the other hand, says he’s ready to go against Miami of Ohio. He said he doesn’t really care what is written on the depth chart, which lists him at third-string. If he is healthy and cleared to play, he says he will start.
“I feel like I’m going to be back this week,” Simmons said. “So I’m going to have a knee brace on, but I’ll still feel good when I’m back.”
Both Simmons and Jackson are aware that Harrison’s performance during the past three weeks has been solid, and the competition that dominated the preseason will continue into the season. When Simmons returns, Missouri will have three options at safety for the first time since mid-August, and each of them knows that nothing is set in stone.
“We’re just going like whoever’s best is going to play,” Simmons said.