There is something to be said about being first … even if you to wait a while before you can have that distinction.
On a day in which five Camden High School football seniors signed National Letters of Intent with established programs, Jason Harris was venturing into the relative unknown after signing with Erskine College. The last time the Flying Fleet fielded a football team was in 1951. They will do so again in 2020.
Before disbanding the program for a 68-year stretch, Erskine did pin a 14-6 loss to visiting Florida State University on Homecoming 1948 in a game moved off campus to McCann Field in Anderson which accommodated a packed house of some 3,500 fans.
Erskine and first-year head coach Shapleigh “Shap” Boyd will spend the 2019 season implementing a new system and preparing for the school’s football re-boot in 2020 when the Flying Fleet will take to the gridiron for its first game of the new era.
Having a full season without having to play a football game on the weekend is not a problem for the six-foot, 305-pound Harris, a three-year starting center for Camden who concluded his high school career by being named to and playing in the Touchstone Energy North-South All-Star Game last December.
“It will let me get adjusted to college athletics and academics. That was another reason for my choosing Erskine,” Harris said of the unique set of circumstances in his first year in Due West.
“We won’t play any games, to my knowledge. The schedule is still being shaped. There’s been talk of having some scrimmages. There will be three practices a week, up to 20 hours a week. Basically, we’ll just be lifting, conditioning and having three practices a week.”
This coming fall will also be what could be considered an extended combine with all the members of the fledgling program proving themselves to Boyd and his staff.
“It’s going to be tough not having a team to go out there and go up against. I think that is where competition comes into play,” Harris said. “With it being a new team, everybody is going to be starting from the same spot so you have to go out there and compete.
“If you don’t win a starting spot that first year and your second year, you probably won’t get it. That’s going to be a huge part of it; learning to compete inside of the team and try to get that starting spot because there’s going to be a lot of guys going for it.”
Brian Rimpf, who is entering his third season as head coach at Camden, said an additional year of seasoning will do nothing but help Harris, as well as the Flying Fleet.
“He can play right away but this extra year that he is going to get before they start playing will be real beneficial for him. It’s a good fit for him,” he said.
Harris was part of a 39-member signing class for Boyd along with strength and conditioning coach Jordan Odaffer who both used being a part of history as one of their selling points to the recruits.
“One thing that coach Boyd and coach Odaffer said was that we were going to be in pictures for all of history for being the first team at Erskine. To me, that’s awesome,” he said. “I like being a leader and I like to start something off.”
Presently, Erskine has an enrollment of just less than 600 students. Adding a football program should give that figure a boost. The chance to play football, though, was not the only reason why Harris made the decision to sign with the Division II entry Erskine.
“I took my official visit up there and coach Boyd just really sold Erskine. That’s his job to sell his school, but there was a deeper meaning behind that; I felt what was he was trying to do and I felt like I would be a good fit up there,” Harris said. “It’s a good place to get a good education and, with it being a new program, I felt like it would be a good chance for me to come in there and start off as a good spot with a new program.”
Rimpf said Harris was being recruited by several colleges. Erskine seemed to stand out from the rest, though.
“Jason had a lot of interest from a number of schools. In the end, he said that he just felt most comfortable with Erskine,” said the former offensive tackle with the Baltimore Ravens. “It’s a unique situation in that they are just starting their program and he’s part of that first signing class.”
The thinking, going in, is for Harris to stay at center. “That’s the plan. Once they’re able to evaluate my speed and strength, they may move me to guard. As of right now, I should be sticking to center,” he said.
When Harris arrives on campus, the Erskine staff will see football season. Now down to 305 pounds, Harris said he wanted to and started shedding weight after the all-star game.
“I’m losing weight; I was overweight,” he said with a smile. “I’ve lost 30 pounds since the North –South Game. After the North-South game, that became my number one goal.
“I kept my weight up through the season. I talked to coaches about it and they said not to lose it during the season because then, you throw off your proteins and carbohydrates. You lose energy and you won’t perform as well.
“After the North-South game, that became my number one goal. That hurt me in not being in the weight room. That was definitely my biggest weakness. It affected my quickness and my speed. Now, I have to get back in the weight room and get stronger and get ready for the speed of college football.”
A thinner, more mobile Harris could be a player the Erskine coaching staff may want to try at a guard slot, should the need there be greater than being over the football on offensive plays. Rimpf, for one, thinks Harris is a model center.
“Jason was such a good high school center,” he said. “He was so consistent with his snaps and he’s a smart kid, which a center has to be. They have to direct protections and the blocking schemes.
“If they need him at guard, Jason can play guard but he will be in one of those three middle positions. I would imagine that he will go in as a center and, then, go from there.”
While some high school seniors look at this day as a simple formality in signing your NLI and posing for pictures with family, teammates and friends, Jason Harris said this day meant more to him ... much more.
“It’s a huge day. The next four to five years of my life were just decided today,” he said following the signing ceremony held inside the Camden High library. “I’m going to spend a lot of time with the football team (at Erskine) and the rest of my time studying.
“I’m going to be away from home. This was the first huge decision that I’ve had to make as a man. My dad told me, ‘You’re a man, now. This is your first big decision.’ That’s how big a day it is for me. It’s the start of manhood, in my opinion.”