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Team success eclipses personal glory

Stats are nice, but Clearwater RB Jason Harris likes victories more.

JAMAL THALJI
Published October 8, 2004

CLEARWATER - Jason Harris is a running back. He thinks like a running back. He looks like a running back. He sprints for the end zone like an exceptional running back.

But a running back is not all that he is. He is a football player, first and foremost. One burdened by towering expections at Clearwater since his sophomore year.

As much as he craves carries and yards and touchdowns, the kind of statistics by which running backs are measured and judged, wins are the most important number to Harris.

And as a football player, Harris wants to do whatever he can to rack up victories as if they were yards on one of his long scoring jaunts.

"I guess a lot of running backs say, "I need to have 1,000 yards rushing,' and all that," Harris said. "I just say to myself, if I can go out and perform every Friday night, it's all going to come to me. Right now, my goal is to win games for this team."

The Tornadoes are doing just that. That 3-1 start is the program's best since 1999, ending a streak of three straight 0-3 starts (and 0-4 in 2000.)

Clearwater has won three straight and at 2-0 sits atop the weak Class 5A, District 9. The 6-foot, 200-pound senior has done his part, or parts.

"'He's a good leader, a great kid, a hard worker," coach Tom Bostic said. "I think this year he's really been more active. He really leads by example, but he's been more vocal with the team. People have always expected a whole lot out of him. But I don't see how you can say he didn't meet expectations. Heck, look what he did his sophomore year."

He ran for 912 yards and six touchdowns then. When opposing defenses focused on him as a junior, he ran for 830 yards and seven touchdowns while sharing carries. He's still searching for his first 1,000-yard season. But last season, making the playoffs was more important.

"Last year I didn't get all the carries I wanted," he said. "That was perfectly fine with me because we were winning games, and those were games that we needed."

He still worked hard this offseason to add more to his game. Harris packed on the muscle over the summer, squatting 500 pounds and deadlifting 535. He wanted to become a tougher, more physical, more dominant downhill runner.

He has done just that, rushing 51 times for 450 yards and five touchdowns behind a healthy veteran line, averaging 8.8 yards per carry - and he's had three scoring runs called back this season.

"I tried to put on a little more weight this summer to run more north-south," Harris said. "I don't think anybody is going to try and hit me straight up now."

Harris runs with authority, much more than in the past. "I was always trying (to run) east and west, that's all I did," he said. "Sometimes I was trying to dance too much."

Now he doesn't, and he has more energy to run straight ahead. He doesn't have to start at linebacker anymore. Instead he subs in on key plays, and that has left him fresher on offense, and defense.

Last year, defensive coordinator Charlie Spelman remembers a play when Harris fumbled. He came back on defense and five solo tackles followed. Even limited to a handful of plays, Harris is still a force.

"Charlie made up a highlight film for (Harris) and he might have had as many defensive highlights as offensive," Bostic said. "That's why so many colleges are looking at him on defense."

Akron, Boston College, Iowa State, North Carolina and South Carolina are all interested in Harris, who is looking at South Carolina "a lot harder" but isn't ready to make a decision.

He misses defense, but said winning is more important. But Harris can't do without the ball.

He's unselfish, yes.

But Harris still is a running back.

"My carries mean a lot to me," he said. "If we can get it done some other way, then I love it. But, hey, if we're going to play, get me the ball."

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