For Terps' Harrison, it's better to receive

Aiming for playing time, converted quarterback makes smooth transition

April 26, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - This quarterback story begins to end at a restaurant in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. That's where Maryland's Latrez Harrison approached Dallas Cowboys quarterback Quincy Carter in early January and asked if Carter could throw a few passes his way.

Harrison had been used to throwing the passes, having backed up Shaun Hill on the Terps' Orange Bowl team last season. But not long after returning home from the bowl game, he was catching passes from Carter. When Harrison returned to College Park, he informed Maryland's coaches of his decision to become a receiver as a junior this fall.

"I didn't want to leave here not playing," Harrison said of his decision to change positions, which gives the Terrapins a great blend of size, speed and power among their wide-outs. "All I want to do is help us win."

Harrison's grasp of the fundamentals has room for growth. His hands aren't completely sure, and he needs to improve his stances and his ability to get past pressing pass coverages.

But, otherwise, the transition seems to have been a snap. At 6 feet 3 and 220 pounds, his frame is larger than any of the other receivers'. He excels with the ball in the open field. And having played quarterback, he knows how to position himself best for the team's current passers.

"He's got a pretty good knowledge of the offense already," said Maryland receivers coach James Franklin, "[and] he's got big-play ability when he gets the ball in his hands."

Not unlike Chris Kelley, the current front-runner at quarterback, Harrison came to College Park under great expectations, having thrown for 2,400 yards and 27 touchdowns in his senior year at Washington High in Atlanta. In his first year at Maryland in 1999, he ended up starting two games, including one against Florida State.

He took a redshirt year in 2000 and had considered a position change before 2001's spring practice under new coach Ralph Friedgen. But he wanted to compete with Hill for the starting job, an ambition complicated by his struggle to master the new offense.

In sporadic duty last season, Harrison completed five passes in 14 attempts for 25 yards and gained 147 yards on the ground in 19 carries. Even as the team's 10-2 campaign concluded, Friedgen said Harrison would have to play somewhere in 2002, even if he wasn't at quarterback.

"We've got to get him in the game," Friedgen said in January. Safety was another option. "He's too good an athlete."

After returning to Atlanta for winter break, Harrison discussed the possibility with his older brothers, Charles and Dantonio, who had encouraged him to play quarterback throughout his youth football career. They told him he should make the switch.

Kelly Campbell, a former star wide-out at Georgia Tech and a Little League teammate, instructed Harrison on routes, and Carter threw the passes. When Harrison returned to College Park, he was ready to move on.

"I kind of knew I wanted to do that, and I knew Chris Kelley had enough talent," he said. "I don't have a huge ego - ego is not going to help us."

Harrison said he likes getting to dish out punishment to defenders, something rare when you're a standing target for linebackers and defensive linemen.

In the secondary, he's usually about 20 pounds heavier than the defensive backs who will often have to bring him down.

"People thought I was soft, but they don't want to see 225 pounds coming with a full head of steam," he said. Of the defensive backs, he said: "They can all hit, but they all have this side where [they're saying], `This is Latrez coming at 225.' "

Most importantly, life is simpler for Harrison. Quarterback requires a player to know what's happening with the other 21 players on the field. That number is significantly fewer for a receiver.

"And I get to sleep at night as well," he said, comparing this spring with nights of preparation that went as late as 4 a.m. "Now, I sleep at 11:30."

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