Wednesday October 23, 2013Senior Offensive Lineman Jonotthan Harrison: Bigger Is Better
By Robyn Jones, UF Communications
Jonotthan Harrison has never been known as average.
Growing up, he was too big to play Pop Warner football, checking in at over 200 pounds in the fifth grade. He played backyard football throughout elementary and middle school until he received his first opportunity to play on a team in the eighth grade.
It was a first-year program with an unlimited weight class and Harrison fit right in. The team of inexperienced, young men didn’t manage to score a touchdown the entire year. But, that was ok.
“One of the coaches on the team said, ‘you’re going to be a good football player one day.’ I didn’t think much of it,” Harrison remembers.
That was his first football experience, until one day when he was working at Groveland’s putt-putt golf course and a local church mother noticed his size.
She immediately called the town’s high school football coach and described Harrison.
“Tell him to come to our next varsity workout,” the coach told the church mother.
From then on, Harrison’s football career blossomed, and a guy who had never been an average kid would soon see why.
Attending South Lake High School, Harrison started at center during his freshman year.
“My freshman year was bumpy,” Harrison said laughing. “I got demolished every time so coach yanked me out.”
He gained experience on every position on the offensive line throughout his high school years, getting moved to guard and eventually to left tackle.
Being a big guy and playing left tackle worked out well for Harrison, especially in his junior year of 2007, when he and former Florida Gator standout Jeff Demps connected as the team’s tandem threat.
“A lot of our plays were outside zones to the left so I would just have him run behind me,” Harrison recalls. “His speed, along with the fact that I was a lot bigger, allowed us to dominate the people in our conference area.”
Harrison’s high school accolades began to rack up, notching an All-Central Florida first-team selection from the Orlando Sentinel and also being chosen as the Offense/Defense All-American Bowl Offensive Lineman of the Year.
When the scholarship offers for playing college football started rolling in, Harrison had some judgments to make. The size of his body had always been above-average and so was the size of his heart.
“I’m born and raised in Florida,” Harrison said. “A lot of my family is here in Florida and I’m a Florida boy at heart. Although I had a good amount of offers out of state, I made the decision pretty early to stay in state. A lot of that is on the fact that I’m an only child to my mom and I didn’t want to go too far from her.”
Not only did Harrison have his mind-set right about family, he had his mind-set on his future too.
“I come from a big education family with a lot of doctors and lawyers,” Harrison explains. “I’m really the only athlete in the family. Even when I started playing football, my mom didn’t know much about it. She had always ingrained how important education was in me. Nothing past college is a guarantee, so a degree from Florida is the best degree you can get in the state.”
Coming to Gainesville in January of 2009, and standing a healthy 6’3,” 310 pounds, Harrison immediately soaked in the atmosphere of being a Florida Gator. The ’08 team was on their way to the National Championship and Harrison had to sit back and watch.
“I wanted that feeling someday,” Harrison said of his emotions surrounding the 2008 glory.
That fall, Harrison focused on academics and it paid off. He earned a spot on the Fall SEC Academic Honor Roll, notching a 3.0 grade-point-average. Football-wise, Harrison didn’t experience any game action and earned a redshirt.
When 2010 came around, Harrison got his chance. He played in all 13 games for the Gators that year, drawing his first start on the big stage at the Outback Bowl against Penn State.
Harrison was excelling on the field, but he was facing struggles off of it. Dealing with a coaching change, health issues, deaths in the family and the stresses of school accelerated Harrison from the boy he used to be to the man he is now.
“[The struggles] have definitely made me stronger; a lot of it comes from maturity too,” Harrison commented. “Coming into college, everything a coach would say to me I felt like they were taking a shot at me, it was directed at me, or it was personal. But, I had trouble trusting the process and having faith in the process.”
Harrison has grown in tremendous ways as an athlete and, most importantly, as a person.
“Midway through my career I kind of realized that ok, the fact that the coach is taking his time out to talk to me means something and means that he has faith in me, he believes in me,” Harrison added.
His poise is one of strength and confidence now.
Running out of the south end zone tunnel of The Swamp as a timid underclassman, Harrison was a “deer in the headlights.”
Now, his efforts make the Florida offensive line run.
“I’m in my comfort zone,” Harrison said. “I’m not as nervous, but every time running out of the tunnel I get the same amount of excitement. It’s really a great feeling running out there and hearing the roar of the fans, seeing the flashes of lights and the flags going up. There’s just no better feeling.”
No better feeling for a not-so-average guy.
Harrison may have been through his share of life-changing experiences thus far, but new challenges arrive every day for the offensive lineman.
The recent injury to junior quarterback Jeff Driskel means that Harrison will be snapping the rest of the season to redshirt junior Tyler Murphy, a player who made his first collegiate start against the University of Kentucky last weekend.
“Of course, there’s going to be a slight chemistry difference because I’ve worked with Jeff a lot more than I’ve worked with Tyler,” Harrison stated. “But, there’s no worry, there’s no panic, there’s no fear at all. We have confidence in Tyler.”
“[Tyler Murphy’s] a guy that’s quietly focused,” Harrison continued. “As Jeff was going through his reps, prior to the injury, Tyler was taking a mental rep behind him; he was taking a body rep behind him, he was asking questions. He’ll [Murphy] come to the O-Line and ask us why we did this or why we did that so he has a better understanding. He was able to learn everything he needed to learn without the pressure of performing at the same time. So, that’s why we have all the faith in him.”
Harrison’s leadership skills will be on display as Florida transitions quarterbacks, however, his leadership isn’t limited to the field.
Harrison has a heart that can touch just about anyone.
“I like to lead by example,” Harrison commented. “Not just on the field, but off the field too. That’s just something I learned growing up. My mom always told me it’s better to be a leader than a follower.”
“Going through college, I was never the one to skip class,” Harrison went on. “I would do my assignments, respect the teachers, respect the tutors and respect the training room staff. All of these people are here to help me and I realized that early in my college career. That’s definitely a little tidbit I pass down to the freshmen. We have freshmen come in and they’re lost and their heads are spinning with the whole college atmosphere. I try to tell them: ‘Maintain your grades now, it’s easier to maintain than repair. Stay out of trouble now and that will just help the progression of your college career.’”
A speaker of wisdom, Harrison is focused but likes to be normal sometimes. He is double-majoring in Criminology and Anthropology, loves Jamaican food and playing Xbox with some of his teammates. After college, he hopes to have an NFL career or possibly work in the fields of sports anthropology or forensics.
For now, Harrison will continue to be a humble, not-so-average man making the most of his senior year.