Harris overcomes obstacles and finds his calling as a return man/receiver on the IFL's Tucson Sugar Skulls.
The day of his first game, Jeremiah Harris didn’t quite know how things would go.
Here he was in Tucson, Arizona — on the other side of the country — sitting in the locker room, waiting for the start of the Tuscon Sugar Skulls’ game against the San Diego Strike Force.
It’s Saturday, May 4, and while the Sugar Skulls had already played eight games leading up to this matchup, it was Harris’ first real introduction to the Indoor Football League.
“I didn’t really know what to expect, to be honest,” Harris said. “When you think of arena football, you think of guys getting hit over the wall, and it’s just this violent game. I had those ideas in my mind, but at the same time I was just ready to get some experience under my belt and get accustomed to the game.
“I wasn’t really scared,” he said. “I was nervous a little bit, but it went away after the first hit and I was ready to go after that.”
Going into the game there was one thing certain for Harris: He knew he’d be getting looks on special teams as a return man, but that was it … or so he thought.
Harris was able to take advantage of his situation on special teams — as he picked up 105 yards on just three kick returns (an average of 35 yards per return) — but it wouldn’t be all he’d contribute.
A few injuries at the wide receiver position had Harris put into the offense, where he got a crash course in a style of football that plays dramatically different than its traditional counterpart.
“As far as receivers go, we can only go certain places,” Harris said. “Compared to outdoor football — where you have to guard the whole field — in arena football you can really narrow down where a receiver is going to go. (That’s), pretty much, the most challenging part.”
But there’s one change that Harris has really exploited over his seven games in the league — the running start that receivers are given.
Instead of being set in place, Harris and other IFL receivers are allowed a running start at the line — provided that they don’t cross the line of scrimmage before the snap. For a 5-foot-7 speedster like Harris, it’s perfect.
“If a guy is within five yards when I’m in my running start, he basically has no chance,” Harris said. “Sometimes our coach takes advantage of that depending on what team we’re playing. If they’re going to play man all day, we’re going to take advantage of that big time.”
His deceptive speed has led him to finding the end zone on eight occasions, with his first coming in the second game he played in, which was the following week against San Diego.
“When you think of arena football, you think of guys getting hit over the wall, and it’s just this violent game. I had those ideas in my mind, but at the same time I was just ready to get some experience under my belt and get accustomed to the game."
— Jeremiah Harris
“It was a relief, just knowing what I had been through and what I came from,” Harris said. “Scoring that touchdown was like, ‘Finally, you’ve made the most out of the opportunity you got, and it’s only up from here — next time it ain’t going to be one touchdown, it’s going to be two touchdowns.’”
Funnily enough Harris did just that, as he followed that touchdown with back-to-back games where he picked up two scores in each — cementing his spot on the team as an offensive threat.
In such a short time, Harris has found the success at the pro level that he has been looking for since he was a 7-year-old kid playing in the backyard of his Orlando home. But it was at Dr. Phillips where Harris really found his game.
For most of his early football career, Harris had only played on the defensive side of the ball as a cornerback before finding himself on offense for the Panthers’ varsity football team. It was also there that he noticed something about the players around him.
“Everybody started outgrowing me,” Harris said. “As I got to high school everyone started hitting their growth spurts and I stayed the same, so I just found my way — I found the position that suited me at slot, and I ran with it.”
After helping lead the Panthers to a 12-1 record his senior year, Harris graduated from DP in 2015 and took that same tough football mentality with him to Webber International University.
After four years of college football, Harris was facing his next biggest life challenge — breaking into the pros. He signed with the National Arena League’s Orlando Predators this year, but things didn’t seem to be working out.
He was put on waivers and nothing appeared to be going anywhere for him, so Harris decided to act.
“Not being selfish, but I was like, ‘I know my worth, I’m not going to let them waste my time,’” Harris said. “When the Sugar Skulls signed me, the day I left, the OC of the Predators and the head coach said they wanted me back. I was like, ‘I can either stay here and let them waste my time, or go explore a new opportunity,’ and I went with my gut. I talked with my family and we all decided I should just go with my gut.”
That decision to travel west is one that has paid off big for Harris, despite the adjustments to a new time zone and climate.
But those adjustments are much easier to make knowing that he has come so far, and that he has the chance of doing something that most people don’t get to do: Have a fighting chance to possibly progress to the NFL.
“I just want a shot at the next level — whether it’s just a workout or free agent,” Harris said. “Whichever way it goes, that’s on me — if I get that shot it’s on me to produce and show them why they should sign me or keep (me).
“But right now I’m just taking advantage of every moment,” he said. “I don’t really try to think too much into the future, because things tend to fall when you do that. I just take it day by day and make the most out of my opportunity.”