St. Al senior wins Post’s Offensive Player of the Year award for a second time
Published 11:00 pm Friday, December 25, 2015
As August turned to September, and September to October, DeMichael Harris grew increasingly frustrated.
Mentally, the St. Aloysius running back was ready to get back on the field and offer up a repeat performance of his 2014 season, when he set the school’s single-season rushing record and led the Flashes to the MHSAA Class 1A championship game.
Physically, it wasn’t happening. The ankle he’d sprained on the second series of a Week 2 game against Pisgah simply wasn’t ready to run on. He tried, and got one carry in before coming up gimpy again. St. Al’s losses piled up as Harris sat on the bench, unable to do much of anything to stop it.
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“It was pretty tough. I had gotten frustrated and tried to come back too early when I should have just sat out. I had to learn the hard way,” Harris said. “Luckily it came around around district time, and that’s when the team really needed to win.”
By early October, Harris was ready to give it another go. When he was finally 100 percent, he burst out of the gate like a throughbred ready to explode.
Harris had 110 yards and two touchdowns in his first game back against Greenville-St. Joseph. He doubled both totals the next week and capped it off with a Warren County record 395 yards and six touchdowns against Bayou Academy a month later.
With Harris back in the fold, the Flashes started winning again — four straight games in all, with the District 3-AAA championship and a playoff victory thrown in.
Harris wound up with 1,470 yards and 24 touchdowns in only six full games, a season’s worth of eye-popping stats in half the time. For both his performance and the way he put the Flashes’ offense on his back for the stretch run, Harris earned The Vicksburg Post’s Offensive Player of the Year award for the second consecutive season.
“It’s a blessing. I didn’t know if I was going to get it this year because of the injuries. But I just had to play with what God had gave me. The few games he gave me, I made the most of it,” Harris said.
Did he ever.
Harris rushed for 2,102 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2014, when he shared the Player of the Year award with teammate Connor Smith. He was a heavy favorite to win it again as the season began, but after a middling effort in a season-opening loss to Cathedral he had one carry for five yards before getting hurt the following week against Pisgah.
Harris missed one game, tried to return against Washington School, and aggravated the injury. He missed two more games before coming back into the lineup for good.
“It set me back a couple of weeks. If I’d have sat out that game I got hurt again, I would have been able to play the next week and would have been able to play two more games,” Harris said.
Harris made up for lost time once he did return. He had four consecutive games with at least 230 yards and four touchdowns. The high point came in the first round of the MAIS Class AAA playoffs, when he went off for 395 yards and six touchdowns.
The yardage total broke the old Warren County record of 347 yards set by Vicksburg’s Caris London in 1999, and a school record of 310 yards held by Charles Guiney since 1934. The touchdown total was a school record and tied the county record.
“I heard their fans cheering when they tackled me 20 yards down the field. I was just shaking my head, like ‘Why are they cheering?’ It’s not like I fumbled or anything. That was probably the weirdest thing,” Harris said. “I came to the sideline in the second quarter and Justin Ehrgott, No. 32, was telling me about my stats. He said I was on pace to break a thousand in that game if I’d have kept running like I was in the first quarter. That’s when I realized it.”
The Bayou Academy game not only was Harris’ finest performance, it showed off in one four-quarter burst what made him such a great running back. His six touchdowns all came from 20 yards or longer, and most were on plays where he was barely touched. He hit a hole and then galloped down the field 60 or 70 or 80 yards to the end zone.
Harris averaged 23.2 yards per carry in that one game, 12.4 for this season, and 10.1 over the past two years. He had more than 100 yards in 16 of his 22 career starts at running back — he played receiver his freshman and sophomore year — and 200 yards or more 10 times.
“Speed kills,” said teammate Josh Price, a lineman and fullback who served as a lead blocker for Harris. “He also has vision. He can make cuts and see things we don’t even see. He can see those miles ahead. He runs hard, especially this last year.”
Harris is likely to get a chance to keep running at the college level. He runs a 4.3-second 40-yard dash, is a good student, and is being recruited by Alcorn State, Mississippi College, most of the state’s junior colleges and a handful of Football Bowl Subdivision programs.
He wasn’t yet sure where he’ll sign.
“I’m going to see how it plays out. I’ll be patient. I’ll make my decision in January or February,” Harris said.
In the meantime, Harris and the Flashes can reflect on what he’s already accomplished.
His career total of 3,689 rushing yards is the sixth-most by any player in Warren County history. His 47 rushing touchdowns are second only to Warren Central great Brian Darden, and the most in school history. St. Al has played football continuously since 1925.
Harris had the first 300-yard rushing game in Warren County since 2004, became the first to top 2,000 yards in a season since 1994, and is the first back to top 3,000 yards in a career since Darden played from 1992-94.
Harris did all of it in, essentially, a season and a half. He missed all or part of six games over the last two seasons with injury and didn’t play running back until the start of his junior season. He said he sometimes wonders what kind of stats he could have put up if he’d stayed healthy, but quickly dismisses it.
“It’s always that ‘what if?’ But I just have to be thankful for what God gave me, because that could have been my last snap when I got hurt at first,” he said.
No matter what he did or didn’t do, St. Al coach BJ Smithhart said Harris is not a player who will forgotten any time soon.
“I don’t think there’s much he can’t do on a football field, as far as running the ball,” Smithhart said. “I stopped being amazed at what he did a long time ago. It’s been fun watching him.”
Vicksburg Post Offensive Players of the Year
2015 – DeMichael Harris, RB, St. Aloysius
2014 – Connor Smith, QB, St. Aloysius and
DeMichael Harris, RB, St. Aloysius
2013 – Connor Smith, QB, St. Aloysius
2012 – Peter Harris, RB, Porters Chapel
2011 – Cameron Cooksey, QB, Vicksburg and
A.J. Stamps, WR, Vicksburg
2010 – Chris Marshall, WR, Porters Chapel
2009 – Tim Jones, RB, Warren Central
2008 – Clayton Holmes, QB, Porters Chapel
2007 – Austin Barber, RB, Porters Chapel
2006 – Hayden Hales, QB, Porters Chapel
2005 – Chris Mixon, RB, Porters Chapel
2004 – Larry Warner, RB, Warren Central
2003 – Larry Warner, RB, Warren Central
2002 – Richmond Fields, RB, Warren Central
2001 – J.J. Brown/Phelan Gray, RB, Vicksburg
2000 – J.J. Brown, RB, Vicksburg
1999 – Caris London, RB, Vicksburg
1998 – Thomas McKnight, RB, Vicksburg
1997 – Josh Morgan, QB, Warren Central
1996 – Ben Jernigan, QB, Porters Chapel
1995 – Stacy Williams, RB, St. Aloysius
1994 – Brian Darden, RB, Warren Central
1993 – Brian Darden, RB, Warren Central and
Jamaal Williams, RB, St. Aloysius
1992 – Brian Darden, RB, Warren Central
1991 – Alfred Daniels, RB, Vicksburg
1990 – Damian McClelland, RB, Vicksburg
1989 – Larry Carter, RB, Warren Central
1988 – Kenny Johnson, RB, Warren Central
1987 – John Kavanaugh, RB, St. Aloysius