Harris the savior of the Canes

At this time last year, quarterback Jacory Harris was splitting snaps with former teammate Robert Marve. But with Marve’s transfer to Purdue earlier this year, Harris became the undisputed starting quarterback.

He also has a new coordinator in NFL veteran Mark Whipple, whose creative offense will utilize the best receiving core in the Atlantic Coast Conference and allow Harris to thrive.

Head coach Randy Shannon believes that the playing time Harris received last season leaves him prepared as a full-time starter.

“It’s different now because Jacory is an experienced quarterback,” Shannon said.  “Last year neither one of the guys had taken snaps. Now, we’ve got a veteran guy who’s played a lot of football games. The team is excited about him.”

This marked the first time in Shannon’s era that the team already knew who the starting quarterback was entering fall camp. In 2007, Kirby Freeman was named the starter over Kyle Wright just weeks before the season opener.

As a true freshman last season, Harris threw for 1,195 yards and 12 touchdowns in a limited amount of playing time because of the decision to use two quarterbacks. The Hurricanes are hoping his numbers flourish even more under Whipple’s offense.

Fresh off a stint on the Philadelphia Eagles coaching staff, Whipple is implementing a pro-style offense and has been known to produce immediate results. He won the Division I-AA title his first year at Massachusetts in 1998, and was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterbacks coach in 2005 when Ben Roethlisberger won a Super Bowl as a second-year player.

Since Whipple arrived in Miami seven months ago, Harris has made a connection with his offensive coordinator.

“Jacory is a lot more confident now,” Whipple said. “I think he has a real good control of what we are trying to do. He has really become a leader. He loves this place and his role. I’m really excited about him.”

The offense will be returning all of its playmakers from a year ago, including junior running back Graig Cooper and sophomore wide receivers Aldarius Johnson, LaRon Byrd, Travis Benjamin and Thearon Collier. Eight of Harris’s 12 touchdowns were caught by the quartet.

“I got a good surrounding cast of guys around me, and I don’t have to say too much,” Harris said. “Just being ‘regular old’ me. I’m just going out there having fun, throwing the football around, doing what I’m supposed to do and letting receivers make plays.”

“J12”, as he likes to be called, earned ACC Rookie of the Week honors three times last year after impressive performances against Charleston Southern, Duke and Virginia.

Harris is not accustomed to losing. He lost his first game as a starting quarterback in last year’s bowl game against California. Up until that point Harris was a perfect 30-0 at Miami Northwestern High with a mythical national championship.

Harris stepped on campus in January of 2008 as a skinny neophyte with high expectations. He weighed 165 pounds then and in a year and half has put on 25 pounds of muscle.

Now Harris is looked upon as the savior of the program, and the pressure has mounted. He carries the burden of bringing swagger back to the U.

It’s imperative that the local boy stays healthy because he is the only quarterback on the roster who has taken a snap under center.

Backup quarterback and true freshman A.J. Highsmith enrolled this August, but has quickly learned under Harris’s tutelage. Still, he lacks the instincts to play right away.

“He has learned everything quickly,” Harris said of his protégé. “He has caught on. I really didn’t have to help him anymore.”

All the players believe Harris can lead the team further this season.

Byrd, who caught all four of his touchdown receptions last year from Harris, is eager to have J12 as the starting quarterback for a full season.

“It’s his team,” Byrd said. “I told him to lead us to a championship. He has his swag on right now.”