Ever upbeat, Harris working through latest ACL rehab

J-Shun Harris pondered the thought again last fall. Was this game really worth the pain and trouble?

Three ACL injuries will do that.

The latest of which came during an Oct. 28, 2017, loss at Maryland, where a promising, inspirational comeback season came to an end for the Indiana return man. Upon receiving the diagnosis of his third ACL tear in three years, Harris considered stepping away from football for good.

But he didn’t get very far.

“When you love something, it’s kind of hard (to leave),” Harris said. “It’ll have to be a cold day downstairs to take it away from me.”

So Harris is working his way back with hopes that he’ll be able to return to the field for Indiana for the 2018 season.

Nothing is promised, nothing is assured. But Harris isn’t leaving without giving football another try.

“This game, everything it’s given to me, I just feel like, hey, if my knees are already what they are now, I might as well try and continue to play,” he said.

Although Harris isn’t cleared to practice, he attends Indiana’s spring workout sessions to provide energy and vocal encouragement from the sidelines.

Those around Harris are glad he’s there.

“He has incredible heart,” said IU receiver Nick Westbrook, who is working his way back from his own ACL injury suffered on the season-opening kickoff last year. “I really don’t know how he does it, but it’s an inspiration for me.”

Harris navigates the rehabilitation process with confidence. Going through the same ordeal for the third time in as many years, Harris says he knows what to look for and the checkpoints to plan along the way.

He’s been running on an underwater treadmill to strengthen everything, while relying on the guidance of assistant athletic trainer Collin Francis.

“My approach to it is I’ve been through it,” Harris said. “The first one is always the worst one. It’s been the same process. I know what and what not to do. I know what it’s supposed to feel like, so all the questions I had before, I don’t have as many.

“Having Collin there, he’s been there for all the stages and every injury I’ve had. Having him there has helped out a lot because I know what I’m getting from him as far as energy, motivation. He pushes me every day to get better and hopefully get out there soon.”

After a two-year layoff, Harris returned to form early in the 2017 season and eventually appeared in seven games. He twice earned Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors after big efforts against Virginia and Georgia Southern, finishing his season with 14 punt returns for 266 yards and two touchdowns.

Conference coaches and media saluted him with All-Big Ten Honorable Mention recognition, and Harris also received a nomination for the Orange Bowl Courage Award.

Although his knees have repeatedly failed him, Harris hasn’t changed. Through all the hardship and rehabilitation, Harris is still the same upbeat person he’s been throughout his time at Indiana.

And he still has plans to go out on his terms.

“You talk about attitude, mindset, sense of urgency,” IU coach Tom Allen said. “With what he’s going through, his leadership, his smile, his attitude, the energy he brings – he just has that aura about him when he’s out there.

“So you love him around you all the time. He’s never, ever down, even though he probably has every right to be discouraged a little bit. His rehab is going great. He’s working hard. And I expect him, per the timetable, to be hopefully ready to roll. But he’s a great young man. He’s awesome to have around us, for sure.”

15 comments

  1. Harris has been a great team player and with his optimistic attitude helps teammates on the field and the teammates going through rehabilitation. It is amazing that he can go through this three times with a positive outlook but that is what many people do going through surgery and rehabilitation. What makes his situation special is the demands of being a top athlete playing football and having his knees fail him three times. He is fortunate that medicine has developed to the point that if needed he can get a knee replacement down the road and live a “normal” life. IU is fortunate to have Harris on the football team one more year.

  2. It is his personal decision. Admirable at that. When I read several IU fb posts and articles about players and team they seem to be great posts about the intangibles; leadership, courage, working hard, comebacks after injuries, great guy character etc. Then, when I read Purdue fb articles (and articles about top programs) they seem to be about the tangibles; ability/s level, what they are going to do on the field to be productive @ winning. Intangibles are great, but at some point ability level to make plays and win games by players and team have to be at the forefront. I notice T.A. and program often emphasizes intangibles in blogs and articles (feel good stories). IU is hardly out of the woods in terms of being a solid big ten fb program. The question is will they completely tank to reclaim the bottom of the barrel.

  3. t, your comment in response to this article was disappointing. Every Hoosier fan above ground and over the age of five knows the history and current status of IU football. As for Harris, had he not gotten injured when he did last year, the season may have turned out differently because Harris was one of those guys that had the “tangibles.” In his case speed and vision to break plays for touchdowns. Last year’s offense needed Harris and Westbrook, and their loss due to injuries were serious blows to IU’s ability to produce a winning season. And what their injuries highlighted was that what IU Football really needs is much greater depth. IU has a lot of outstanding talent on the first team. the problem is, when one of those talented first team players goes down, their replacement does not often have the same levels of skills or experience to adequately fill the void.

  4. t, coach Allen’s approach is about getting the best players that are good people to come to IU. It isn’t just the intangibles that they recruit it is just the approach they take. Look at Penix and Walker and you see better players that enjoy the atmosphere and choose to come to IU. Many schools in the South comment that sending players to IU is very good because Coach Allen and his staff take care of the players more than just as athletes. IUFB isn’t going down but is building up but it takes time. IU has 4 star players in the past two years that chose to come to IU Burgess, Walker, Penix. I expect to see more four stars coming but the 3 stars are showing they have talent too.

  5. Po, name the seasons, name the players, only if this or that including injuries. The list goes on and on. …all the way to pretty much the bottom of the barrel in the big ten. Currently, IU football is just a little above that. I think S. Harris is admirable for IU fb even though when is enough, enough for his own good. I know it is his decision. I know a complaint against K.W. was giving a player/s a hard time to play when dealing with an injury. At any rate I wish S. Harris well.

  6. t, I didn’t understand any part of your last post. But I’ll try to respond. Losing two highly talented wide receivers in Harris and Westbrook was a HUGE blow to IU last year. Without them, the offense did not score enough points to allow IU to win six games and make it to a bowl game. Now we can agree that IU needs enough depth at every position so that when a key starter goes down with injury, there is no significant drop off in performance. But obviously, IU is not at that level yet. And that’s Allen’s mission. He knows that in order to “break through,” he and his staff must continue to improve recruiting. Glass knows that too, hence the investment in facilities. And it sure would be helpful to the cause if 15,000 to 20,000 more members of the Hoosier Nation showed up at home games next year. Taking a campus visit to a school that fills its stadium with excited fans surely helps the coaches recruit better players.

  7. Po, I agree with you losing Harris and Westbrook last year was a blow to this team….but, lets remember they where backup (receivers) players not starters. Let’s look at the fact the receiver coach and the offensive cord felt the need to play these two players on the special teams unit (which is where their injuries occurred). We all agree that Indiana football needs more depth, but exposing your best backup wide receivers to injuries on special teams is no way to build up the depth on the team IMO. If Luke Timian is the starters at the slot position this year, are you going to stick Whop Philyor on special (kickoff squad) teams??

  8. I too have been puzzled as to the logic of placing key players on special teams. I can understanding putting a good receiver in to return punts or kickoffs. What I can’t understand is placing a good receiver on the kick off team. Could understand a good DB, but a receiver? Especially when the offense was going to have a challenging year anyway?

    Would like to hear the collective thoughts on why such a strategy.

  9. Every college has starters on special teams because they are the best players. Also players wanting to go to the NFL want to be on ST to show they can do more than just play one position; look at Barkley for PSU on the KO return team. Teams routinely have their best receiver or runner on punt return because they are the most dynamic players on the team. ST win games [it is claimed they win three] and you have to have your starters mixed in with the other players if you want them to be special. Remember most of these players play ST in high school so they are used to it; the only positions not typically used are QB and OL.

  10. ST’s starters are not less special than O&D starters. Not only were Harris and Westbrook lost to the offense but they were also lost to ST. As v13 stated that could easily have added to the L column. Where required I like starters playing ST’s. Not much nowadays but there used to be a lot of starting QB’s & RB’s that were kickers and punters.

  11. Po, Nothing hard to understand if you can read. A lot of years through IU fb history more than one key player has been injured during most seasons. So don’t just say last year was the exception. Plus IU always lacked talent including starters at various positions. So don’t assume the only difference is drop off in talent is lack of depth though lack of depth is a problem. Yes, T.A. knows recruiting has to improve. Yes T.A. knows players have to develop. So did all past IU fb coaches. So do almost all coaches in any program. Players know it as well. Even most unknowledgable fans know that. Your comments are same o, same o.

    1. Alabama has the speed and talent to play reserves on special teams. Indiana doesn’t. Remember how bad our special teams were a couple years ago?

      You never see a slow player running a kick back 90 yards.

      There’s a reason you regularly see Heisman trophy candidates on Sportscenter returning kicks for touchdowns. They were on the field.

  12. t, what point are you trying to make? I have no idea. Sorry for trying to respond without understanding what you were trying to say. My bad!

  13. I’ll give it a try…

    These are the tales that are IU Football. If we had the depth and array of talent many other Big programs normally possess, this wouldn’t be a story..or a blip on the radar. We must make all blips important blips…because it’s the nature of a perpetual bottom-feeder attempting to get out of the bottom.
    We cling to the heartwarming tales…the hopes of more Pinstripe bowls to come. We hear the same old coaching and administrator criticisms as we remain locked in some sort of football purgatory.
    We believe we should be like any easy fix to a hard problem….Throw money at it and all shall be ours. Oh, if it were only so simple. Until then, more heartwarming tales…and the soap opera of petty meaningless details that passes the time in the trapped elevator going down.

    1. Very eloquently put H4H as there aren’t easy answers for IUFB. There is a reason it has been bad historically and that can’t be fixed right away. I thought coach H would move IU up in the football world but unfortunately we didn’t get to see what he could have accomplished. Then coach Wilson helped change the attitude making IUFB respectable on the field. I hope and think coach Allen will get the job done but there are things he will have to overcome. Things are better today as facilities have improved, S&C is now on the leading edge, IU is pulling in players that have impressive offer sheets but choose IU, and IUFB seems to have some very good recruiters as coaches. Over the next couple of years we will see if all this is enough to change IUFB. It isn’t easy to change a perennial also ran program so coach Allen has a tough job just as previous coaches have had a tough job trying to turn the program around.

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