Saying goodbye: Patience pays off as Harris becomes hot commodity

By Kyle Kensing
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, November 21, 2005

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles this week putting the spotlight on the Arizona football team's departing seniors.

Patience is a virtue.

For Arizona senior running back Gilbert Harris, that virtue has paid off in his final season in a Wildcat uniform in the form of accolades from NFL scouts.

A variety of national publications have tagged Harris as one of the nation's top-five fullback prospects for April's NFL draft.

It's a welcome reward for a player who was recruited out of San Antonio's Churchill High School as a tailback.

"I think I'd be prepared for that transition (to professional fullback)," Harris said.

Harris has pulled double duty out of the backfield throughout his collegiate career, creating holes as a blocker for fellow senior running back Mike Bell, when he's not taking handoffs and scampering through holes of his own.

Those openings have been plentiful for Harris, as he has accrued 660 rushing yards as head coach Mike Stoops' No. 2 rusher over the last two seasons.

"He's there right now," said Arizona running back coach Kasey Dunn of Harris' professional potential. "The only he needs to do in the League is put on some more weight. ... With his pad level, he strikes you (on blocks) and does a lot of great things at fullback."

Harris has shown his prowess as a blocker, but has also established himself as a multidimensional threat.

Gilbert Harris bio
Arizona-14, Washington-38

No. 36 - Running back
Senior - 6-foot-1 - 225 lbs.
San Antonio
2005 stats
Through 10 games: 77 carries, 285 yards (3.7 yards per carry), five touchdowns

His eight career rushing touchdowns - five of which have come in 2005 - are second on the current Arizona roster only to Bell. He has caught passes for 350 total yards since 2002, which is good for an average of about nine yards per reception.

And, according to Dunn, Harris has done it all for the betterment of the team.

"We should get him the ball more, but with Mike in the backfield, there's only one ball," Dunn said. "He's not getting the reps I'm sure he'd like to have at tailback, so it says a lot about his character, the way he's stepping out and blocking.

"He's been a team player for us," Dunn added. "Really, he's a tailback, and he could do a great job in a single-back set for other schools."

When he's lined up at running back, Harris has been explosive, most notably during a 113-yard, career-best outpouring Nov. 5 in Arizona's 52-14 upset of then-No. 7 UCLA. In his fullback role this season, he has played a big part in freeing up Bell en route to a team-best 886 yards.

"(Our relationship) has developed really well," Bell said. "We bring something new to the defense that they can't catch on to. They can't get used to just one player."

That two-headed attack will be key Friday when Arizona takes to Frank Kush Field at Sun Devil Stadium for the 2005 Territorial Cup game against rival ASU.

The game will mark Harris' first 11-game season. The running back's previous three campaigns were all cut short, due to injury and various disciplinary issues.

"I've been through a lot, but it's been a positive experience for me," he said. "It's just taught me nothing comes easy in this game, and you've got to work hard for everything you get. If you work hard and stay humble, things will eventually go your way."

With those learning experiences in tow, Harris' eyes are focused on the future, which begins at ASU, where Harris and his fellow Wildcats hope to win the Cup in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1998.