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September 8, 2009

Harris finds his spot on the field

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The low point for Chris Harris in his 2008 season wasn't in the days before the Texas Tech game last year, when he learned he was no longer going to be the starting cornerback. It wasn't in the weeks after, as he struggled to learn his new position at the nickel. It wasn't even in the offseason as he watched the younger cornerbacks develop and realizing he would probably never play his old position again. No, the low point for Chris Harris arrived earlier during Kansas' Big 12 opener at Iowa State.

Harris was still the starting cornerback then. But in that game the Kansas defense gave up 268 passing yards as Iowa State's wide receivers torched Kansas' secondary. Kansas wound up squeaking out a 35-33 victory and afterwards Harris talked about rebounding for the next week.

Internally though, for the first time, Harris began to doubt himself.

"Once you have the fear, it usually comes alive, and it did," Harris said.

Two weeks later, Harris struggled again, this time against quarterback Sam Bradford and the Oklahoma Sooners. A couple days later, Harris and cornerback Kendrick Harperwere replaced by Justin Thornton and Daymond Patterson. Harris himself admits he was in a slump on the field.

"I wasn't playing at the level that I should have been playing at for this team to win," Harris said.

Still, moving to nickelback? Heading into the 2008 season, Harris was working on becoming the next great Kansas cornerback. Harris started every game as a freshman on that Orange Bowl team. He was named AP Big 12 Newcomer of the Year.

He had been mentored by All-American cornerback Aqib Talib, he even wanted Talib's old #3 jersey. Now, Harris wasn't even being used in Kansas' base defense. It was a tough pill to swallow.

In hindsight, it was easy to see why it all occured. In 2007, with Talib getting mostly one-on-one matchups, Harris had luxury of receiving additional aid from the safeties and linebackers in coverage.

"We were able to help him, probably more than he knew about" defensive coordinator Clint Bowen said.

In 2008, with Talib having left for the NFL, the entire secondary struggled. Still, Harris said it wasn't any change in the scheme that led to his poor season, it was just a matter of losing his confidence.

"It was just one of those things, you get in a slump and you can't do anything right," Harris said. "I just couldn't figure it out."

The rest of the year, Harris had trouble adapting to his new position. Heading into the offseason, he still wasn't comfortable with his role on the team. Fellow teammates and coaches saw something that Harris didn't.

"My teammates said you could do something at this position," Harris said. "They helped me get adapted to it."

When fall camp arrived, Harris began to see what they were talking about. At nickel, he had the freedom to roam the field, just like he did when he excelled at safety in high school.

Suddenly, Harris felt like he did back when he was a freshman. His fear and his anxiety on the field had vanished. In the first game of the season against Northern Colorado, Harris was one of the best players on the defense.

Just like old times, Harris made big hits and broke up pass plays. He was voted by his coaching staff as the team's defensive player of the week.

"I had been waiting for that game forever," Harris said. "It was just a big weight off my chest."

Last week, it was cornerback Anthony Davis who had the bad game. He was flagged for several pass-interference penalties. Harris, after having gone through his own struggles, knows what to tell other players going through the same thing.

"You are going to go through tough times but you have to work through it and persevere through it," Harris said. "As long as you keep doing the work, anything can happen."


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