When we last heard of USC walk-on cornerback James Harbin, he was working a graveyard shift at a warehouse and still showing up daily at Trojans' spring practices, competing man-to-man against some of the team's most talented receivers.
Trojans coach Lane Kiffin mentioned him back then as an example of a standout person and player who benefited the team with his work ethic. But, back then, that felt like it was all sort of for show -- sure, Harbin was a good practice player, but he never got in the games, other than the occasional special-teams snap.
That's about to change. Harbin, a senior transfer from Los Angeles Southwest College, is the Trojans' fourth corner heading into Saturday's game against Notre Dame, filling in for the injured Torin Harris (shoulder) and Anthony Brown (ankle). He probably won't play a bunch, but if anything happens to the three players in front of him, Harbin will be right in the fray as USC's nickel corner against a vaunted Irish passing offense.
"It's a pretty cool story," Kiffin said this week. "He would come right from the graveyard shift of working his security job and then come right to here and walk right into practice, so it says a lot about him and his dedication so it's a pretty good story."
Harbin stopped doing that graveyard shift in April. But he said retains certain attributes he developed doing the dirty work on the football field.
"It made me who I am today, which is a very strong individual," Harbin said Thursday. "And I'm ready for any challenge that comes my way.
"It definitely was a challenge to work at night and right after work go to practice and then right after practice go to class and then find gaps in my schedule to sleep."
It's very abnormal for student-athletes to have jobs -- and even more abnormal for football players. Harbin said he got a lot of quizzical feedback from his teammates when they found out, at various points in time, about his extracurricular activities.
"A lot of players asked me, like, 'How do you do it? Where do you get the energy? How is that possible?' Because most of the players don't have jobs, and working at night is like, 'Wow.' So there were a lot of comments. But I just told them I had to do it."
"I think I get a lot of respect from doing that, because they understand that this is a tough thing to do. And I appreciate and respect their consideration, but I don't use it as an excuse. I never use that as an excuse to slack off."
When Harbin was being interviewed Thursday for the first time in his college career, a number of teammates snuck up behind him to yell loudly and celebrate his moment of recognition. It was a token of appreciation for a player who has quietly done all of his duties over the years without complaint.
Now comes his real chance to make noise at Notre Dame Stadium.
"I'm prepared," Harbin said. "I listen to the coaches, I watch film, I understand all the plays, And I'm physically fit and able to meet every demand and challenge. Being the fourth corner other places might not sound so good, but here at USC it's definitely a great opportunity, especially as a walk-on.
"I'm definitely honored and I don't take it for granted."