A lot has been made of Scarlet Knights wide receiver Jawuan Harris making an appearance at the first day of spring football practice on Thursday. A year ago, the Pembroke Pines, Fla. native visited the gridiron bubble practices but was not an active participant. This time he stretched, ran routes, and bonded with teammates for a good portion of the workout.
So how would it affect him on the diamond? For anyone wondering why Harris was not present at Saturday’s second spring football practice, by now they should know he traveled with the RU baseball team to Spartanburg, South Carolina for a three game series with USC Upstate. In the series finale, the outfielder hit not one, not two, but THREE Home runs in the second game of the double header. A scintillating performance saw the lead off man go 3-5 with 3 Home Runs, and 4 RBI in an 11-3 victory to put the punctuation mark on a sweep as the baseball team is finally hitting their stride.
The three long balls is the first time a Scarlet Knight has achieved the feat since Nick Cerulo in 2002 at Columbia. Harris had 6 hits in the series, did not steal a base but did have 5 runs scored to go along with the 4 RBI. Football teammate and now fellow receiver Myles Nash took notice.
Shunning the age of specialization
My parents who both lettered 4 years at RU (my dad in baseball) always encouraged me and my brother to play multiple sports growing up. Not only do you work muscles in the entire body but it’s more opportunities to learn teamwork, perseverance, poise, and adaptation at game speed. Parents and coaches today though, especially in baseball often try to have the kids on the diamond year round, noted in a great book by Mike Matheny, but the pendulum is beginning to swing back the other way. When a guy like Patrick Kivlehan completes his football career and then his first year back with a baseball bat after a long layoff becomes a star and is now fighting for a chance to play in the majors, it’s eye opening. Couple that with kids injuring themselves throwing too much, running too much, and even swimming too much and those old school lessons seem to carry more weight. Throw in New Jersey native Chris Hogan’s story and it really gets interesting.
One of my favorite sports quotes ever came from baseball Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner when he described the immortal Jackie Robinson, “Jackie was a world class athlete, baseball was his worst sport.” Robinson while at UCLA starred in track, basketball, and was also led the nation in kick return yardage for the Bruins. Robinson hit only .097 for his one hardball season, though as one would expect he did add a few spectacular moments.
Harris on the other hand as a true freshman hit .278 with 3 HR, 22 RBI, 35 Runs, and a B1G leading 37 stolen bases. In football as a redshirt freshman OTB already called him a star after 39 receptions, 481 yards and 3 TD. So far this season back in the national pastime he’s hitting .310 with a team leading 7 HR, 13 RBI, 22 runs, and 13 steals. He is on pace to exceed his stats from a year ago or come close.
This puts Harris in elite company. All lists of all-time athletes begin with Paul Robeson, the virtually undisputed greatest in the history of Rutgers University earned 12 varsity letters, and they don’t give them out for singing. Some former Knight football-baseball standouts include Eric Young Jr., Homer Hazel (also basketball and track), Deron Cherry (superstar in football, not baseball), Kivlehan (star in baseball not football), and John "Jack" Grossman who played pro football, baseball, AND soccer!
Other two-sport stars in other sports include Heather Jones, the Knights all-time leading scorer in WLAX AND field hockey, Bill Austin (second in Heisman voting and two-time LAX All-American), Paul Pesthy who won the 1964 Olympic modern pentahlon, Renee Clark in softball/field hockey, Bob Kelley & Al Twitchell both football/MLAX, and Ralph “not a misprint” Schmidt (Wrestling, Football, Men's Lacrosse, Men's Track & Field, and Men's Basketball).
So where does he go from here?
Harris in the clip above admitted that he felt two of his homeruns were “pop ups”, so clearly that demonstrates he is aware of where he stands today and his room for improvement. I’m sure a tough season on the gridiron added to his humility. He also understands baseball is a team game, specifically talking about the team aspect and only commenting on his own performance when specifically prompted. His growth as an individual is well on it’s way and all signs point to improvements in both athletic endeavors.
Robinson ultimately chose baseball, which was common for the time despite the racial barriers that existed and it changed the world as we know it. Eric Young is the closest modern example of a two-sport star at Rutgers who chose baseball. Baseball offers the most stability job-wise as there is an entire farm system to develop skills and one minor injury shouldn’t hamper an entire career unlike football.
So what are the options?
A. Keep playing both sports at RU and see what happens.
B. Quit football to focus on baseball
C. Quit baseball to focus on football (can always come back later?)
D. Go pro in baseball if drafted in 2017.
My hunch is Harris will continue his career in both sports even though it would not surprise in the slightest if he was drafted in baseball this year whereas there is no chance in football. In football, he had impressive numbers for a redshirt freshman, but critics may point to a small sample set in an anemic offense. He needs more time and better quarterback play will surely help. With a strong 2017 in football, there’s an outside chance he could get drafted to the NFL in 2018, though not likely.
In baseball they draft tools more than results, as you hear the term “five tool player” as the ultimate prospect. Harris checks the box for speed obviously. Coach Litterio has settled in his outfield alignment with Harris in center in 2016 and from the limited TV exposure it appears Harris checks the defensive toolbox and likely the “arm” as well. The recent power surge despite only being a listed 5’9, 192 pounds means likely a check there as well. If he keeps the average over .300 (albeit with a metal bat), he may even be considered a five tool player which would be hard for MLB teams to pass up. If he does get drafted, it would be a hard decision to make, but I think he will make Coach Ash, Coach Litterio, and especially Coach Kill happy to stick around another season.
What do you think Harris will chose and do you think he’s better at baseball or football? Post in the comments section below and answer our poll question.
What is Jawuan Harris’s best sport?
This poll is closed