FB : Head held high: Concussions force Adam Harris to quit football, steering him to track and field

first_img Published on February 21, 2012 at 12:00 pm Even though it was his senior day, Nov. 26, 2011, was not supposed to be the last time Adam Harris played football in the Carrier Dome.Because he still had a year of eligibility left and planned to return to the team as a graduate student, he didn’t participate in the pregame ceremonies honoring the senior class before Syracuse’s final home game of the season against Cincinnati. He figured he had another full year with the Orange in front of him before trying to play professionally.But that senior day, Harris’ plans disastrously fell apart thanks to one final hit.‘Any one play can be your last play,’ Harris said. ‘You never know when it’s going to be your time. It’s very rare that someone gets to stop playing football on their own terms. Usually, your body decides when you’re done.’The fullback’s body did just that in the first half against Cincinnati.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textHis dad, Leo Harris, who has gone to every Syracuse game the last two seasons to watch his son, marveled at how he was playing early against the Bearcats. But pride in his son quickly turned to nerves when the fullback took himself out of the game after a big collision near the line of scrimmage.‘At the time, I’ll be honest, I knew something was up,’ Leo Harris said. ‘In my heart, I knew he was done. That was it.’The blow left Harris with his third concussion in four years. Physicians and team trainers decided shortly after the concussion that he would not be allowed to play football at Syracuse again.Even though Harris said he is now symptom-free, the risk of another concussion would be too great if he returned to the football field. Instead of moping about the injury, he contacted SU track and field head coach Chris Fox days later about joining the team as a shot put and discus thrower. With only one other thrower on the team, Harris’ addition would fill a need for the track and field squad. He hadn’t thrown in four years, but the coaching staff saw potential when he went through a morning workout.And now, just months after the concussion permanently knocked him off the football field, Harris has his sights set on the Big East Outdoor Track and Field Championships at the end of this year.‘I’ve always been a competitor,’ he said. ‘Really just completely stopping and just basically going into a black hole was hard. This gave me an opportunity to still compete. I wasn’t ready just to be done with all kinds of competition.’The dirty workAntwon Bailey thinks fullbacks are even crazier than linebackers. Both positions thrive on contact, but in Bailey’s mind, the defenders at least get credit for it. Fullbacks, he said, go unnoticed while the rest of the offensive skill players get all the glory.Harris fit into that role perfectly.‘He was one of those guys that went out there and did the dirty work,’ Bailey said. ‘He didn’t get a lot of praise, but he wasn’t looking for a lot of praise. He went out there and he did his job each and every practice and every game.’Before Harris came to SU, he was ‘Pennsylvania Football News’ Defensive Player of the Year as a linebacker at Towanda Junior/Senior High School. But he didn’t get any attention from Division-I schools. He chose to play at Cornell, but his collegiate football career started off almost as bad as it ended.He suffered his first and most severe concussion in preseason camp with the Big Red. The symptoms from that initial head injury lingered and held Harris out through his entire freshman season.He transferred to Syracuse after that year as walk-on for the football team and sat out his sophomore season due to NCAA transfer rules. He didn’t make the switch to fullback until the spring before his junior year when head coach Doug Marrone asked him to help fill in. Harris took to the new role and became the starting fullback as a junior.He was back on the field doing what he loved.‘Football was the thing he lived and dreamed and woke up every day for,’ Leo Harris said.As a senior, his teammates chose him to be SU’s special teams captain. He only touched the ball 20 times in two years but paved the way for back-to-back 1,000-yard rushers in Delone Carter and Bailey.Bailey understands perhaps better than anyone how important Harris was to the Orange. In their time together, the duo developed a relationship similar to a quarterback and his favorite receiver.‘We learned to play with each other,’ Bailey said. ‘It was like I almost knew what he was going to do before he did it. And he would block just the way I needed it to be done.’But it all came to an end with one final hit.Making dueHarris knew immediately something wasn’t right after the hit against Cincinnati. He tried to shake it off after heading to the sidelines and even returned to the field to see if he could play through it.He quickly found out he couldn’t.‘When I was trying to block, there was like a halo around the outside of my eyes, and it wasn’t really clear what I was seeing,’ he said. ‘It just made it rough, and I knew there was something pretty wrong.’Harris reported the issues to running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley and the team trainers. By then, his dad already had the feeling something bad happened.Harris stayed in the locker room when his teammates came out of the tunnel after halftime. The trainers called Leo Harris shortly after and told him to come to the locker room.Harris told his dad that he saw three of the same Cincinnati linebacker as he tried to block. The training staff was well aware of Harris’ concussion history. After consulting a physician, the decision was made.‘The best protection for somebody that’s had a significant amount of concussions is pulling them from activity,’ Syracuse’s head football trainer Denny Kellington said. ‘Sometimes, it’s protecting them from themselves.’That final concussion kept Harris short of his dream of reaching the NFL. But he didn’t sulk. By the time Syracuse played its final game the next week, with Harris watching in street clothes on the sideline, he had constructed a new plan.He threw shot put and discus in high school. That season was just beginning at SU.’He likes to compete,’ said Fox, the track and field head coach. ‘He wanted to still do a sport. He was allowed to do shot put because there’s nothing that can happen with his concussion problems in the shot put. I was more than glad to have him.’It hasn’t been a seamless transition. Harris would have liked to compete at the Big East Indoor Track and Field Championships last weekend but didn’t qualify.Still, Harris remains very optimistic. He was quick to point out positive results won’t happen right away.‘It’s kind of a slow process,’ he said. ‘You can’t expect overnight results, but at this point in the season, it’s going really well.’Risk vs. rewardWith all the headlines the danger of concussions have made in recent years, Kellington said it makes sense trainers and doctors have become so cautious when dealing with head injuries.‘Especially with all the research out there now, everybody is very conservative,’ Kellington said, ‘which you have to be because you only have one brain.’Harris didn’t argue or complain that his career was ended by an injury. It was disappointing, but he has accepted that his football career is over.And he’s looking forward to a healthy life after football.‘I know the risk that comes with concussions, and it’s something that I don’t want to mess with anymore,’ Harris said. ‘I just know the risks that can come with it. There’s a lot of life left to live, and I don’t want to live depending on somebody for my daily functions.’He will graduate in May with a marketing management degree and then attend the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications for graduate school.Before then, Harris plans on qualifying for the Big East Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Tampa, Fla., in May. After four years off from throwing shot put and discus, it may seem like a stretch.But Fox said that goal is realistic and expects Harris to qualify.The former fullback already overcame the obstacles of walking on to a Division-I football team and transitioning successfully to a new position on the offensive side of the ball.And those close to him believe those triumphs serve as a sign of things to come.‘Adam’s a fighter,’ Bailey said. ‘If I’ve learned anything from him in the past years, it’s that he’s a fighter, and he’s going to give it his all. Adam wasn’t good at fullback when he first got flipped over. … He worked day and night at it like I know he will at this track thing.‘He’s going to succeed. Mark my words. He’ll definitely succeed.’[email protected]  Facebook Twitter Google+center_img Commentslast_img read more