When Adam Harris made the decision to leave Cornell to walk on at Syracuse, he did it in the hopes of making it as a player at a big-time program.
Then came his first day at the school. Harris arrived with his father to check in when he saw center Ryan Bartholomew.
“He was one of the bigger human beings I think I had ever seen,” Harris recalled in a recent phone interview. “He’s what, 6 foot 2, 300 pounds, a physical specimen. I remember turning to my dad and asking, ‘Are we in the right place right now?’”
Harris, a 6-foot-2, 242 pound linebacker might have gulped hard. But he remained undeterred and eager for a shot to prove himself on the FBS level. When he put his pads on for the first day of practice, he flashed back to his initial reaction and thought, “Maybe I do belong here.”
That was the fall of 2009. Now, Harris is going into his senior season as the starting fullback, tasked with helping open up holes for new starter Antwon Bailey in the backfield. So how did he go from a kid nobody wanted out of high school to a starter at a program on the rise?
“I could only hope and dream of it happening,” Harris said. “There were no guarantees. The only thing I could control were the controllables: hard work, being on time, and doing everything I could to have the coaches notice me.”
That work ethic came from his father, who always told him, “Some people, they can wake up and be good, but to be great at something you have to put in extremes.”
Harris was not highly recruited out of Towanda High in Pennsylvania. He decided to go to Cornell, did not play his freshman year because of a concussion he sustained in his first collegiate snap.
After the season, he began thinking about walking on at Syracuse, a team he grew up watching.
“I didn’t dislike Cornell by any means, but in the back of my head it bothered me I had given up on my dream and I figured I’d regret it more if I didn’t give it a shot,” he said.
Harris knew coach Doug Marrone was coming in with a new staff, so he reached out to see if he could walk on. He did so and spent his first season on the practice squad. Then in spring 2010, there was an injury at the fullback spot and the Orange needed some help.
Marrone approached Harris about making the switch. Harris knew he would have a hard time seeing the field at linebacker, so he agreed. He had to learn a new playbook once again, but took to the position immediately and earned a starting spot.
That is when he earned his scholarship, too. Harris started 10 games last season. But more than that, he has made it on the 2009 and 2010 Big East All-Academic Team, and was recently announced as a nominee for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.
Harris has spent the past two years as volunteer at the Justice Center in Syracuse, working with teenagers who are trying to turn their lives around. His main message is this: “No matter how bad things might seem, there is always a chance to make things right.”
The work has been rewarding. So has everything he has done on the field.