If you didn’t know Wake Forest running back Josh Harris before the Virginia Tech game last year, you probably realized who he was after it. Harris was the back who, in his first career start (in Blacksburg, no less), took off for 241 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. It was the most rushing yards the Hokies ever allowed an individual. One touchdown was an 87-yard run, tied for the third-longest in school history.
Harris led the team in rushing with 720 yards and seven touchdowns last year. His 5.7 yards per carry average was the third-best average in school history and the highest by a Deacon since 1971. He’s hoping there’s more where that came from this fall. Here are the highlights of our recent interview:
What are you looking forward to most about this season, and what do you think is going to be different?
Josh Harris: I’m looking forward to redeeming ourselves from last season. I know the entire team had high expectations and we did not achieve those goals. The opportunity to be back on the field and play against the team’s we’ll play against … I just can’t wait to get back out there. I feel like the thing that’s going to be different is our team last year was extremely young, including myself. There were about six or seven of us who it was our very first year playing on the field, actually out on the field and playing the entire game. It was kind of hard for us to get into the game. We didn’t have games where we had time to learn how fast the game is. It’s just going to be exciting for us young guys to have that first year under our belt. We can calm down, relax and just play.
Aside from general game experience, where do you guys think you made the most improvement from last year?
JH: I would say toughness. I think last year we kind of got outplayed by teams. Now I feel like all summer these guys have been hitting the weight room hard, out on the field hard, now I feel like we are a lot stronger, we’re a lot faster, we’re in better shape than we were last year, so now we can really compete with these top teams that we’re playing against.
And you guys have a very tough schedule. There’s a lot of top teams on there.
JH: Yes, ma’am. I was actually sitting here now looking at the sheet that showed all of the teams we’ll play, and I just begin to smile because as a small child I would watch college football and see these teams and I would wonder how it would feel to play for these teams. Now I playing against these teams and it’s just a dream come true for me. That gives me even more motivation to work hard and to perform great along with my teammates against these top-tier teams.
You had a great season last year and expectations are pretty high for you. How often do people bring that Virginia Tech game up?
JH: Pretty much every day. I try to not even have it as big as it was. I try to downplay it because it was only one game and it was last season. Now every time somebody brings it up, I say, "That was last season. I’m trying to look forward to this season." I’m trying to have a game like I had against Virginia Tech every game. I’m not trying to have one good game here and there.
What do you think you need to do to become more consistent?
JH: I just need to focus on the task that’s at hand and make sure when I get in the game I have my head on straight, make sure I’m the type of team leader I need to be on the field to make sure my teammates are also playing well because that game against Virginia Tech wasn’t just me. We had a great game by our offensive linemen. They did their job well enough to let me get through those holes. I have to encourage my offensive linemen all throughout the game to make sure they have their heads on straight and make sure I’m on the same page with our offensive coordinator because he would come on the sideline and ask us what’s going on on the field.
A lot of people on the outside looking in at the Atlantic Division are talking about Florida State and Clemson. It doesn’t seem like a lot of people are talking about the Deacs. Do you feel like you guys can surprise some people this year?
JH: Oh, yes ma’am. I actually really enjoy seeing all of the other teams getting all of the hype. That leaves us standing in the back, so when teams come in here, they’re not really worried about us. They probably already have us down as a check on their schedule and they’re looking forward to teams that are ahead of us, which gives us more incentive to even work harder because we’re like, "OK, this team is not even going to take us seriously." We all see that and are all upset by that. It doesn’t really bother me. I know what kind of team we have and the kind of talent we have, but it might not show. I know what kind of team we have and the season we plan on having. At the end of the season it’s going to be a huge shock wave going through the ACC.
How are you handling the expectations surrounding you? You are one of the big names on the roster people are zeroing in on and expecting big things from.
JH: I try not to let the stress of it take over me to where I’m sitting there wondering, "can I carry this team?" I just make sure I’m working as hard as I can and make sure I’m encouraging my teammates to work as hard as they can so as long as the opportunity is presented where there’s a huge play needed I make sure I have made the right steps in my training and field work where I can make the right play. I see and hear a lot of expectations for me, but I also have high expectations and goals for myself, but I don’t go to the point where I’m stressed out or will let it affect me on or off the field.