September 17, 2014

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Football: Who is Alex Harris?

Highland running back Alex Harris patterns his game after Baltimore Ravens All-Pro Ray Rice, who stands all of 5-foot-8. Hornets left guard Myles Houska prefers to compare Harris to 5-6 Falcons jitterbug Jacquizz Rogers.

That’s apples and oranges, really. Both are electric backs despite less-than-ideal size and fit Harris, one of Medina County’s breakout offensive stars, very well.

Highland running back Alex Harris (GAZETTE PHOTO BY RON SCHWANE)

“He’s beneficial from the offensive line’s standpoint because he’s so shifty he can make something out of nothing, really,” Houska said. “He’s something you can fall back on if you’re having a tough game or what not.

“We joke around with him saying he’s Jacquizz Rogers because he just hides behind us, and as soon as he sees the opening, he hits it and gets 4-5 (yards) a pop.”

The Hornets’ version of Jacquizz Rice/Ray Rogers entered this season generously listed at 5-8, 170 and was a virtual unknown outside of Granger, Hinckley and Sharon Townships.

There’s no hiding him anymore — not after compiling 702 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns heading into tonight’s Suburban League game at Revere — though Harris’ mother, Mary, nearly put the kibosh on a football career before it even began.

She had reason to be fearful. Alex was still extremely pint-sized in third and fourth grade and, even if he fell in love with the game, there was still a chance he’d be flattened like a pancake.

Luckily for the Hornets, the persistence of Alex and his father, Charles, won out.

“(My dad) played as a kid and all the way through high school and he loved it,” Harris said. “I’d always liked it, you know? He just wanted me to play.”

Harris began his high school career as the freshman team’s running back, and then bided his time behind Kent Masters and Adam Kluk. Harris willingly earned his stripes on special teams in the meantime and recovered a key fumble in last season’s victory at Wadsworth.

Harris finished 2012 with 90 yards on 15 carries, but still had to earn the starting gig as a senior.

He did, and has never looked back.

“I don’t think other people around the (Suburban League) realize how fast he is and how quick he is from side to side,” Houska said. “So, all the line has to do is open the tiniest hole and he can squirt right through it.”

Whoever was going to fill the running back position for the Hornets was one of the biggest question marks heading into the preseason. Harris has put those fears to rest behind a slashing style that even mixes in a little power to boot.

Gone are the days of I-formation power plays with Chris Snook and Aaron Maslowski. Highland now operates almost exclusively out of the shotgun and attacks the perimeter with Harris or with reigning Gazette MVP Bruce Kinsey up the gut on read options.

Harris fits the scheme to perfection and has games of 148 (Wooster), 194 (North Royalton) and 128 yards (Copley) under his belt. His emergence has made the read-option even more deadly, allowing Kinsey to go bonkers in Suburban League play due to the threat of play-action.

Though Harris has yet to break the big one — his longest run is 28 yards — he is a big reason why the Hornets lead the SL by a wide margin with 131 first downs. Highland is also well on its way to breaking last year’s school records for points and yards per game with 40.8 and 428.8, respectively.

“I’d like to think of myself as kind of a Ray Rice a little bit,” said Harris, who is not looking to play collegiately but sports a 27 ACT score and is interested in construction management. “I’m not very tall, but, I mean, I try to use speed and if I have nowhere else to go, I’ll put my shoulder down and try to get as much as I can get.

“(This season’s) been great because we have so many weapons all the way around. With all the receivers we have, to have the running game be that successful, it’s great to be a part of.”

Though the 6-0 start, No. 9 ranking in the Associated Press Division II state poll and No. 1 position in Division II, Region 4 are nice, Harris and the Hornets are hungry for more.

Make no bones about it: They’re gunning to join the 1955, 1969 and 2001 teams in the perfection club.

“What we just got done talking about is (being undefeated) is great and all, but if we don’t finish, it doesn’t mean anything,” Harris said. “We appreciate it. We do — a lot — but we need to stay focused and keep working.

“Going undefeated is our main goal. We want to win Suburban League, stay No. 1 in the region and we’re working every day for those goals.”

Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.