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Oft-injured UTSA QB Harris hasn't let coronavirus deter him from preparing for season

Former Clemens QB Frank Harris, sidelined by knee injuries in 2017 and 2018, started the first four games of the 2019 season before separating a shoulder.
Credit: Photo by Antonio Morano bit.ly/XR79FT / Special to KENS5.com
UTSA QB Frank Harris, passing against Baylor last season, completed 66 of 91 attempts, with two interceptions, for 486 yards and three TDs last year.

SAN ANTONIO — After missing all or parts of the past three seasons with injuries, UTSA junior quarterback Frank Harris knows a thing or two about the challenge of bouncing back from adversity.

A 2017 Clemens graduate, Harris is all too familiar with what it's like to push himself when nobody is watching.

Recovered from a shoulder injury that limited his first college season last year to only four games, Harris faced another obstacle in his comeback bid last month when the coronavirus shut down sports at all levels.

With the UTSA campus closed and spring training canceled, making workout facilities off-limits to athletes, Harris has had to make the best of things by trying to stay in shape at home. 

"My dad always tells me that everybody has to go through adversity," Harris said this week. "Stuff is going to come at you in life. It's how you deal with it that matters. I think the injuries really made me cherish the game of football because it can be taken away at any time."

"It's happened to me a few times. Every time I go out there, even in practice, you can't take it for granted because I got hurt in practice. So you never know when it's going to be your last time taking a snap. You've just got to battle through adversity and keep going."

Harris, who still has two years of eligibility remaining, was on track to be UTSA’s starting quarterback in 2018 before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during spring training. The injury came almost 18 months after Harris tore his left ACL in the eighth game of his senior high school season in 2016. Still rehabbing his injured knee, Harris redshirted as a freshman in 2017.

Harris quickly made up for last time when he finally made his highly anticipated college debut last year in UTSA's season opener against Incarnate Word. He had a rousing performance in the Roadrunners' 35-7 victory, completing 28 of 36 passes, including his first 13 attempts, for 206 yards and three touchdowns.

Credit: Photo by Antonio Morano bit.ly/XR79FT / Special to KENS5.com
Frank Harris completed 28 of 36 passes, including his first 13 attempts, for 206 yards and three TDs in his college debut against UIW last year.

Harris also rushed for 123 yards on 15 carries. The only bad play he had was an interception at the UIW 2 with 29 seconds left in the first half.

Harris' numbers dropped off in the next three games, all UTSA losses, when the Roadrunners faced substantially stiffer competition against Baylor (63-14), Army (31-13) and North Texas (45-3).

Sacked a total of eight times in the back-to-back games against Baylor and Army – he didn't attempt a pass against North Texas – Harris completed 38 of 55 passes for 280 yards, with one interception, and no TDs. He had only three net yards on 24 carries in the three defeats.

Harris took only two snaps against North Texas before he aggravated a right-shoulder injury he had sustained a week earlier. He never played again last season. Harris hit 66 of 91 passes, with two interceptions, for 486 yards and three TDs last year, and added 126 yards rushing on 39 carries.

Then-UTSA coach Frank Wilson confirmed two days later that it was the same injury that had knocked Harris out of the game against Army for two plays. Harris returned to action and took every UTSA snap in the Army game but one the rest of the way.

Harris, a left-hander, said he had surgery to repair the damaged right shoulder.

"It's been a long journey, but I just keeping coming back," Harris said. "This time is actually pretty good for me because it gives my body a break. I've been doing everything I can to try to stay healthy, so when the season comes around I'll be ready."

Harris, who will be a junior this season, will compete with three other players for the starting quarterback job — junior Lowell Narcisse, sophomore Jordan Weeks and graduate transfer Josh Adkins (New Mexico State).

Credit: David Flores / Kens5.com
UTSA quarterback Frank Harris, a Clemens graduate who will be a junior this season, was limited to four games by a shoulder injury last year.

Narcisse started seven consecutive games last year after Harris went down and Weeks started the season finale. A Smithson Valley graduate, Adkins was New Mexico State's starter the past two seasons.

Harris, who committed to UTSA in June 2016, had offers from 19 other schools, including Baylor, Georgia Tech, Central Florida, Air Force, Army and Navy.

Harris was one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the state during his three-year run at Clemens, passing for 3,968 yards and 41 touchdowns and rushing for 4,201 yards and 60 TDs. He had his best season when he was a junior, throwing for 2,033 yards and 17 TDs and running for 2,741 yards and 38 TDs.

While Harris and his teammates have continued working out on their own, UTSA strength and conditioning coach Ryan Filo has kept close tabs on each player via computer.

"Coach Filo said it the best," Harris said. "It's a real test for us because you're going to separate yourself during this time period. It's going to show when we come back. You're either going to gain or lose some. There's only one thing you control, so you've got to go make the best of it.

"Go out and work out, and run around, do some laps and stay in shape. Coach Filo takes all the quarterbacks in this little gym (on video) that he has and he shows us all the workouts we're supposed to do for the day. It really helps us out to show us what workouts we're doing. It's a great resource."

With social distancing critical in the struggle to control the spread of the coronavirus, athletes who compete in team sports are discouraged from working out in groups.

In a quarterback's case, it's difficult to get his timing down with his receivers if he can't work with them on the field.

Credit: Photo by Antonio Morano bit.ly/XR79FT / Special to KENS5.com
The UTSA Roadrunners start their 10th season against defending national champion LSU on Sept. 5 in Baton Rouge, La.

"You can't really throw too much because of everything that's going on," Harris said. "We understand that, so I hope everybody stays safe and stays inside until this thing gets over with."

While UTSA classrooms are closed, students have continued course work online. Harris and his teammates split their time between their classwork and meeting with first-year head coach Jeff Traylor and his staff through video conferencing.

On a typical day, Harris and the rest of the quarterbacks have a teleconference or, specifically, a Zoom meeting with offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr., who is also the Roadrunners' associate head coach and quarterbacks coach, and quality control coach Sean Davis.

Although Harris worked very little with the new offense before UTSA shut down, he's seen enough of it on film to describe it.

"It's going to be really, really, really, really fast," Harris said. "It's crazy, how fast he (Lunney) wants us to go. It's going to be pretty good for us. It's going to be an exciting offense we're going to be in.

"He (Lunney) even said he doesn't know what the name of the offense is going to be, like the spread or the air raid. He said that when we come out there, people are going to come up with a name for the offense we have."

Traylor, 51, was the associate head coach at the University of Arkansas the past two seasons before being hired to jump-start San Antonio's still-fledgling FBS program.

Traylor succeeded Frank Wilson, who was fired Dec. 1 after going 19-29 in four seasons. The Roadrunners went to their first bowl in Wilson's first year (2016) and finished 6-5 in 2017, but they fell to 3-9 in 2018 and were 4-8 overall and 3-5 in Conference USA.

Credit: David Flores / Kens5.com
Jeff Traylor, flashing the Bird's Up sign with UTSA band members at the news conference held to announce his hiring as the Roadrunners' third head football coach, was associate head coach at Arkansas the past two seasons.

A highly successful high school coach at Gilmer in East Texas, Traylor also has been an assistant coach at Texas (2015, 2016) and SMU (2017). He was an associate head coach for offense at UT under Charlie Strong in his second season with the Longhorns and was associate head coach in his only season at SMU.

Born and raised in Gilmer, Traylor went 175-26 in 15 seasons at his alma mater, leading the Buckeyes to three state titles and two state runner-up finishes. Buckeye Stadium in Gilmer was renamed in Traylor's honor last year.

"He reminds me of a high school coach," Harris said. "He's real caring about the guys. He's not a typical college coach. He's genuine. He'll text you, he'll call you. He'll just check up on you. He'll have phone conversations with you. It's more than him just being a coach. He's a father figure, I can say, to some guys.

"He's somebody you can talk to about anything. He's just a genuine guy. You don't really meet too many, especially college coaches, like him. Everybody on the staff is just like him because he's the head guy, so he kind of wants everybody to mimic what he's doing."

Traylor spoke highly of Harris and what he brings to the team.

"I love Frank," Traylor said. "I've seen him as much as I've seen the other guys (UTSA QBs). I love Lowell (Narcisse). I love them all (QBs). Frank has done everything we've asked him to do.

"He has a great attitude. He's what the game is all about. Frank is a winner and a good quarterback. We're excited to have him on our team."

Credit: David Flores / KENS5.com
Flanked by his parents, dynamic Clemens High School quarterback Frank Wilson signs an NCAA letter of intent with UTSA in February 2017.

Harris described the coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes, as "crazy" and "unbelievable." Harris said he's tried to make the best of a bad situation.

"I think it's a great time to go ahead and get closer to your family, and do things that you usually don't do, like maybe read a book, or study more than you ever studied or just do something out of the ordinary," Harris said. "Just do stuff with your family, and engage with them, learn more about them because there's, because there's nothing more you can do. You can't really go places."

Of course, no one can definitively say what further impact the coronavirus will have on the college football calendar. Could the season start later if the country is still struggling to control COVID-19 in the summer?

"You've got to just stay on track," Harris said. "You can't control this and what's going on in the world. We all feel bad for everybody who's dealt with this and is dealing with it right now. We hope nobody else gets it and we'll be glad when it's over.

"You've just got to go every day as if every day is a normal day and the season is going to be around the corner. As much as everybody wants the (football) season to come, at the end of the day we pray that everybody's OK and we can go about our lives normally."

UTSA opens its 10th season against defending national champion LSU on Sept. 5 in Baton Rouge, La.