On J-Shun Harris and a mother’s love

Up and down. Up and down. Stephanie Peterson couldn’t stop.

By the time her son, J-Shun Harris, reached midfield during his second-quarter punt return for Indiana on Saturday, picking up a convoy of blockers ready to steer him toward the end zone, Peterson realized what was happening.

“The whole time, I was jumping up and down,” Peterson said. “I was just so happy. I was overjoyed.”

Consider it a gift from her son, who has credited Peterson’s unwavering support and guidance for giving him the will to come back from three career ACL tears.

This season, Indiana once again has one of the most dangerous return specialists in college football.

Harris’ mother is a big reason why.

“She’s 100 percent been my biggest fan,” Harris said this summer, while his recovery continued. “I’m a mama’s boy, so I love her to death. It’s helpful to have that strong support behind me.”

Across the past three years, while Harris dealt with one ACL, then another — then one more — Peterson has served as the steadying presence, balancing him as he navigated the long course of recovery and rehabilitation.

Sometimes she would send him inspirational quotes or clips of other athletes who successfully returned from similar injuries. Other times, they’d pray over the phone.

Whenever she sensed that Harris needed something — a calming reminder, a pick-me-up or a pat on the back — Peterson made sure to deliver.

“He and I Facetime every night,” Peterson said. “So he has always leaned on me for support. The last ACL, I told him, ‘It’s totally up to you. Don’t feel that you have to try to work your way back for me, to please me. I’m already pleased. I’m already happy.'”

The past week has been especially happy, with Harris helping IU to its 38-10 win over Ball State and earning Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors, too.

“I just continue to be impressed by him,” IU coach Tom Allen said.

With each of her son’s three ACL tears, a different emotion has followed for Peterson.

After Harris suffered the first tear in 2015, Peterson was in disbelief. After all the work Harris had put in to reach this point in his young life, was his budding college football career already over? Would her son’s physical gifts go to waste?

“That was hard,” Peterson said.

The second tear, merely a year later, was even harder.

“That just took everything out of me because he was back, he was strong and we were ready to go,” Peterson said. “Then it happened again. He still was determined. He’s always been strong-willed. That really didn’t surprise me too much (that he came back), but I knew the pain that he was going through. That was tough.”

And when it happened a third time during a late-October loss at Maryland last season, Peterson began to accept that this was it. Maybe football wasn’t meant to be.

For a time, Harris wasn’t sure he’d try to come back. Allen wasn’t either.

But the game has a pull on Harris, who decided this offseason to give it one more try.

“I’ve grown to learn who I am as a person over these past couple years, going through that adversity and seeing how I was able to personally respond,” Harris said. “Now, I feel like I can attack any and every task.”

In the process, Harris has become an inspiration for others, both young and old, inside IU’s locker room and beyond.

“I’m just so proud of him,” Peterson said. “He realizes it’s bigger than football. He became an inspiration to other athletes, as well as just people in general. He’s kept a good spirit. It’s meant the world to me. I smile on the inside.”

And the outside, too.

Smiles were in abundance when Harris met with his family members after the Saturday’s game.

“I don’t know if my mom cried,” Harris said. “I can’t tell. Once I saw her after the game, everything was normal. But I’m pretty sure she may have shed a tear.”

It wouldn’t be the first time.

This time, though, it was all joy.


  1. Dear Mrs. Peterson;
    From my point-of-view, you’ve done an excellent job raising your son J-Shun. Congratulations on raising a young man who possesses such rare amounts of courage and perseverance. Aside from being such an exciting athlete to watch, your son is an inspiration to so any person who has been paying attention to his story, and you have every right to be extremely proud of your son. I pray that you will watch him complete this season without any serious injuries and celebrate his contributions to helping IU build a winning season.

    J-Shun, no matter how old you get, continue to honor your mother. Some day, if you are blessed to have a child, you will begin to understand the emotions that surged through her body when you were returning that punt for a touchdown against Ball State. Heck, I’ve never met you or your mother, but I had tears streaming down my face as I watched your cross the goal line. Thanks for being such a great Hoosier and for being such an inspiration.


  2. Mrs. Peterson you are an inspiration, your son is an inspiration, and through IU Football, your story has been widely spread to hundreds of folks like me who have never met either of you! God bless you, J-Shun, and your entire family!

  3. Mrs Peterson you have every reason to be proud of your son on the field and off with what he has overcome to get back on the field. His love of his sport, team, and teammates says a lot about of what you have instilled in him as he grew up. J-Shun is an inspiration for so many and many have benefitted by example and overcoming his struggles.

  4. If he never runs another one back for six, he’ll always have that last touchdown etched on his memory forever. What a thing of beauty after so much adversity.
    The camera shots of J-Shun’s beaming smile after his score was medicine for anyone still on the proverbial “sideline” of life; holding only onto a heart of perseverance and determination when the odds and commonsense are stacked against.
    A testament to belief in oneself …..and a testament to a mom who always believed in her son.
    Amongst all the news of protected greed and uncouth deeds surrounding many a supposed stellar coach…or stellar program, there are the stories of decency and humble grit which provide all the necessary antivirus against those who have forgotten the beauty while aiming to destroy the true meaning of sport.
    Thank you, J-Shun…for that million dollar smile and million dollar heart. Heroes, examples, and role models are often only found in my childhood memories of athletes who now say thank you as well

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