Like all fifth-year players, wide receiver John Harris wants to finish his career strong

Jori Epstein

In some ways, senior wide receiver John Harris’ story is the same as that of many of his teammates. 

A fifth-year player, an injury delaying his college progress, and a breakout season so far: All of these attributes apply to some of Harris’ teammates, such as linebackers Jordan Hicks and Demarco Cobbs and punter and place-kicker William Russ.

And yet, Harris finds ways to stick out. He had made just nine catches in his entire career up to this year’s season opener. And after Harris posted seven receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown against North Texas, many had the same question about Harris: Is he the new star on the team? 

“I wouldn’t say that at all,” Harris said. “I’m just one of the guys they look up to and one of the guys that they can trust and go to.”   

However, Harris’ teammates and coaches tout his play a little bit more.

“His mindset has completely changed,” Hicks said. “They gave him an opportunity, and he took full advantage of it … I think everybody knew he had it in him. Nobody is surprised at the numbers he’s putting up and his ability. He’s a very explosive wide receiver.”

Harris has proved his explosiveness through three games this season. Recording 19 receptions and 247 yards, Harris also became the third player in program history to score touchdowns in each of the first three games of the season. His plays against UCLA were likely the most significant, as he captured an 8-yard touchdown catch on third-and-goal late in the fourth, and a 33-yard pass on fourth-and-8 to enable Texas’ first touchdown drive that put the Longhorns up 10-3 at the half. Harris said he saw his team’s potential against the Bruins, but he was disappointed with the end result.

“This one hurt a lot,” Harris said. “We had that game right there, so it hurts everybody in the locker room especially. It was a hard loss for us. The heartbreak is there — that hurts. It hurts bad.”

But Harris isn’t the type to dwell on regrets when he can instead work toward improvement. He sees the near win against UCLA as “breaking through a wall” — proof that the skills are there even if the luck is not. As he looks to capitalize on the bye week to improve, it won’t be the first time Harris has translated adversity into motivation this season. When head coach Charlie Strong told Harris last spring that he needed to improve to stay on the team, Harris met the challenge head-on.

“I told [Harris] — what, two or three days ago — I said, ‘You remember the conversation we had?’” Strong said after the North Texas game. “[Harris] said, ‘Kind of gave me a wake-up call.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, and you needed that because you’re very talented, and you’re going to have this football team.’”

Harris is still developing as a starter, getting a feel for his catches and trying to eliminate mistakes. But he’s determined to keep progressing, taking advantage of the starting position he’s been seeking.

“I was always told that a lot of people don’t get second chances,” Harris said. “And so, when you do get a second chance, you have to take the opportunity and grasp it. My brother told me, ‘Go out there, and just take it, and go get it when you have the opportunity.’ I thought about that, and just took it in, and just did it.”