There is something about Dedrick Harrington. As soon as you see him, you recognize it.
A 6-foot-3, 223-pound outside safety from Mexico, Mo., Harrington has what Missouri coach Gary Pinkel calls “the look.”
“He’s got it all, everything,” Pinkel said. “He’s mature, strong and fast. He looks good walking off the bus.”
It didn’t take Harrington long to make his presence felt. After redshirting in 2002 because of a sprained left ankle, Harrington earned the team’s most improved outside safety award in spring practice.
Harrington is starting and making an immediate impact. In his first game against Illinois on Aug. 30, Harrington caused a key fumble when he knocked the ball loose from receiver Melvin Bryant to end an Illini drive.
In five games, Harrington ranks fifth on the team with 32 tackles, including five for loss. Harrington has been a big addition to an ailing defense. Missouri was No. 113 of 117 Division I-A teams last year in pass efficiency defense.
Harrington was one of Pinkel’s highest-rated recruits two years ago when he chose the Tigers over Notre Dame and Nebraska. He did it all for Mexico in his four years there. He had 75 receptions for 1,500 yards and 180 tackles, five interceptions and five forced fumbles in his three seasons with the Bulldogs. He even took on punting duties, averaging more than 36 yards a kick.
Harrington played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and was a part of ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Lemming’s All-American team.
His success wasn’t limited to the football field, though. Harrington also was an All-State performer in basketball and track.
As signing day neared, the pressure on Harrington mounted. Because he grew up so close to Missouri, it seemed as though every person in town had an opinion on where he should go. Most of the people, of course, wanted Harrington to end up at MU. Harrington agonized over the decision.
It was either go with tradition, a proven winning program such as Notre Dame or stay at home and build a tradition. Harrington held an 8:30 a.m. press conference Feb. 6, 2002, national signing day for high school players. Harrington brought out a gold Missouri T-shirt and announced his decision to stay close to home.
Only the pressure he faces to live up to the expectations his high school rating created surpasses the pressure on Harrington to go to Missouri.
Harrington said he deals with the pressure of being “the local boy” almost every day.
“The expectations got greater and greater,” Harrington said. “When you’re from Missouri, everyone is going to want you to go to MU. Being here at Missouri is the only place I want to be.”
Harrington’s freshman year started well enough. He impressed players and coaches in preseason practice. Coaches raved about his physical tools and work ethic. Players whispered about the local kid who hit like a truck. Harrington even thought about walking on to the basketball team, but nixed that idea after one week of Pinkel’s practices.
Not playing his freshman year hurt Harrington. He wanted to be on the field, but he doesn’t worry about what could have been, rather what could be in the future.
Before the start of this season, Harrington received all kinds of accolades. The Sporting News named him to the All-Spring team, and Lindy’s preview magazine called him Missouri’s “emerging star,” only adding to the expectations for Harrington.
By all accounts, Harrington is a polite, kind person until he gets on the field. As an outside safety, or in Missouri depth chart lingo the “rover,” Harrington has a little more freedom than most.
Missouri linebacker James Kinney said Harrington is everything the Tigers needed to add to a struggling secondary.
“He is the real deal,” Kinney said.
Harrington said he doesn’t think about what he would be doing if he played for Notre Dame or the pressure he deals with as the team’s local guy. Instead, he welcomes the expectations and dreams of winning championships for his favorite school.
“I’m not trying to get a varsity letter here,” Harrington said. “I’m here to win championships. I know a lot is expected of me, but I enjoy the pressure.
“Why wouldn’t you want to be the best at what you do? I’m glad I’ve got the opportunity to do that here and I just hope I can make everyone proud.”