Jawuan Harris's switch to safety proves invaluable for Rutgers secondary
It is hard to argue that the bye week could have come at a better time for the Rutgers football team.
All you have to do is look at Jawuan Harris.
Coming out of the bye week and into Champaign, Illinois, Harris had accumulated all of 4 yards in four games. It's not the production one wants out of a wide receiver, especially when that player led the team in receiving yards (481) the year prior as a freshman.
After Saturday's win over Illinois, Harris now has more tackles than yards, and if that output continues, it could stay that way going forward.
"Jawuan Harris was our player of the game (against Illinois)," said head coach Chris Ash. "(I'm) very happy for Jawuan to be able to get his first start on defense, really his first game playing as a DB, and to go out and have the production that he had was outstanding."
It isn't that Harris played well for a converted defensive back in his first game. He played well, bar none. The sophomore led both sides with 11 tackles at strong safety, forcing a fumble and collecting an interception that he returned for 26 yards along the way.
Despite it being his first game at defensive back — and as a starter, no less — Harris said there were some parts that were natural to him as a receiver, but others that needed game time to remedy.
"I was fine as far as in the passing game," he said. "I just had to get that first hit out the way, and then once I did, just try to keep making tackles."
Harris's involvement in the secondary comes out of necessity for the Scarlet Knights. Injury has plagued the unit over the last few games, as junior cornerback Blessuan Austin was ruled out for the season with a torn ACL during the Nebraska game. Junior safeties Saquan Hampton and Kiy Hester went down with injuries against Ohio State, though Hester is expected to make a return to play in the near future.
Hester's return could mark a shift back to wide receiver for Harris, though he mentioned the plan is for him to prepare for both positions for the time being.
That versatility and willingness to get out of his comfort zone is not lost on the coaching staff, and Harris's performance last Saturday against Illinois could mean extended time at safety beyond the Purdue matchup this weekend.
It's a testament to Harris's character, Ash said, to be willing to give himself to an entirely new position for the betterment of the team. All that could mean more time on the field for the two-sport athlete.
"Jawuan didn't just step up to fill a void, he changed positions, and sometimes that's hard to do, especially if you feel like you're pretty good and you add value at your natural position," he said. "To ask you to go on the other side of the ball and play a position that's not your natural position you've never played, that says a lot about an individual."
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