Darin Harris ready to make impact at UW

Things didn’t work out exactly how Darin Harris wanted them to during his first season on the University of Washington’s football team. The 2004 Huskies suffered through the prestigious program’s worst season in its 115-year history and Harris couldn’t really do a thing about it.

“It was kind of depressing,” Harris admitted about the Huskies’ 1-10 season.

The All-State, hard-hitting safety from Decatur High School was kind of used to being the star whenever he stepped onto a football field. Ever since his days playing Little League to a three-year starter at Decatur, Harris was the focal point. The player opposing teams wanted to contain.

But in his true freshman season with the University of Washington, he was just another football player on the 100-plus man Husky roster.

“It’s a lot faster and people hit harder,” Harris said about Pac-10 football. “It’s like everybody is just like you. They were all stars in high school. Now, it’s all about work ethic, attitude and how much confidence you have.”

The 5-foot-11, 204-pound safety is starting to develop that mentality during his first off-season on the Seattle campus and asserting himself more as a leader. Much like he did as the only quarterback to lead the Gators into the postseason back in 2003.

Harris is set to compete for one of the starting safety jobs when spring practice opens at Washington March 31. The Huskies do return both their starters from a season ago — Junior C.J. Wallace and senior Dashon Goldson — but pass coverage and tackling in the defensive backfield were a weakness for the UW in 2004.

“I got messed up with losing,” Harris said. “I didn’t work as hard as I could have worked. But I’m doing it now. It’s different not being the leader. Its kind of difficult not being able to lead the team, but I’m starting to speak up more now.”

His freshman season for the Huskies wasn’t all bad, however. Harris was one of only six first-year players out of a class 18 not to redshirt, as most freshmen do. Harris played in 10 of the Huskies’ 11 games on special teams as a true freshman, compiling two tackles. He was on the UW’s kick off, kick-off return and punt return teams and forced a fumble in the Huskies’ second game of the season — a loss to UCLA.

“That was the first time I got into a college game,” he said. “That was a big thing for me.”

But Harris hopes to make his mark with a little more impact this season on the UW defense. He entered last year’s two-a-day preseason practices as the second-string safety, but only saw two plays in the Huskies’ game against national-champion USC. Harris was slowed a little bit by an Achilles’ strain he suffered during his senior year at Decatur.

“I just didn’t get all the workouts I usually get,” Harris said. “I was rusty.”

He did, however, get to run out of the home tunnel at Husky Stadium in front of 73,000 fans and play on the celebrated turf at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind. He even brought a handful of grass from Notre Dame’s field home to Seattle.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Harris said about Husky Stadium. “I got kind of nervous, though. The adrenaline rush is so bad. It was cool. The losing was tough, though.”

But things are a lot different inside the UW football program nowadays, according to Harris. Following Washington’s 1-10 season, the Huskies and newly-hired athletic director Todd Turner severed ties with Keith Gilbertson and scooped up the ultra-respected Tyrone Willingham to head its football team.

“He’s a real cool guy,” Harris said. “He doesn’t play any games. He is a man of his word and when he says something, he’s going to do it. I think he’s the best coach we could have got.”

Willingham comes to UW with an impressive football resumé. He coached three years at the University of Notre Dame before being fired after

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