PASADENA, Calif. - Nothing seems to have come easily for Michigan linebacker David Harris.
He came out of high school ready to make an immediate impact and was treated like a tackling dummy. He was red-shirted and never saw action in a game.
He played in two early-season games as a sophomore, messed up his knee, and spent the rest of the year limping around on crutches. He was in and out the next year, mostly on special teams, and had 10 tackles.
So, it was a slow start.
"It was depressing," Harris said.
Then there was last season. Harris started the final 11 games, led the Wolverines with 88 tackles, and was named the team's top linebacker.
But by the end of spring practice 2006, new defensive coordinator Ron English had stripped Harris' name from the top of the depth chart.
"He wasn't playing with the level of intensity I wanted," English said. "He wasn't as nasty as we needed him to be."
So Harris got nasty.
He was back in the starting lineup by the beginning of the regular season, led the team in tackles again, with 95, and had 15 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Then, a couple weeks ago, the darndest thing happened.
Michigan's coaches tallied the players' votes for most valuable player - the Bo Schembechler Award - and it was a tie for the first time in history. One co-winner was running back Mike Hart, which surprised no one, and the other was David Harris, which surprised even Harris.
"I was shocked," he said. "I would never have imagined this in 100 years. To be selected for that honor by my teammates means the world to me. It's probably the greatest honor I'll ever receive."
It marked the first time since cornerback Charles Woodson in 1997 - you may remember him as the Heisman Trophy winner - that a defensive player won the Schembechler Award.
And Harris, a fifth-year senior, may not be recognized as the premier player on this UM defensive unit, at least in the eyes of the public.
LaMarr Woodley was named first team All-American, won the Lombardi Award as the nation's best lineman, and the Ted Hendricks Award as college football's top defensive end. Leon Hall is a first team All-American cornerback.
But UM's players saw something special in Harris, who also captured the team award for best work ethic and commitment to game preparation.
"I voted for Mike," Harris said, laughing. "He's a tough little guy and he's the heart and soul of the team. And we had some other guys on defense that were deserving of the award too. I hope it was my leadership that led to this."
English thinks it was that and more.
"For David not to be mentioned as one of the two or three best linebackers in college football is ridiculous," English said. "Watch the tapes. He's a fantastic player, one of my favorites.
"Really, without David Harris we're not a great defense. I just wish more people saw that and realized it."
His teammates did, and that's all that matters to Harris.
Contact Dave Hackenberg at:
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