September 9, 2011

Sense of purpose drives ETBU QB

More news about: East Texas Baptist
Sed Harris
Sed Harris had no plans to attend a Division III school, but chose D-III, and a Christian environment, over junior college football.
ETBU athletics file photo 

"If we are not (living) for the LORD, then who or what are we (dying) for?"
-- Facebook status of Sed Reach'em Harris, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011

MARSHALL, Texas – By his own admission, Sedrick Harris grew up in the rough part of Fort Worth. The 'hood, as he commonly refers to it. But the senior quarterback at East Texas Baptist University says he never feared one day of his life growing up, thanks to a prayer his mother said even before he was born.

Sed Harris, in his third and final year as the starting quarterback at ETBU this fall, has come a long way since his days as a young boy in an environment where, as he says, "some have no escape route." But the 6-0, 190-pound athlete came to grips with his surroundings at an early age and has turned the potential for tragedy into triumph, no matter what happens on the football field.

"My mother gave me over to the Lord, even before I was born," says Harris, who became the only player in the history of the American Southwest Conference to rush for more than 1,000 yards and pass for 1,000 yards in a single season. "She told me she had read the book of Samuel and it talks about how Samuel's mother gave him over to the Lord at the temple, and even though she didn't have a temple she prayed that God would use me even before I was born. I have always drawn strength and comfort from that, knowing God has always been with me and in my life."

Being set aside by his mom, Regina Guy, has helped develop a sense of urgency inside Sed when it comes to evangelism. Whether it's on Facebook under the nickname "Sed Reach'em Harris," or just in daily conversations on campus or around the Carlile Howell Field House, he says he wakes up with one main goal every day: to influence someone's life for Christ.

ETBU head coach Mark Sartain has watched Sed grow both as a player and in maturity level since he joined the program as a true freshman out of Everman High School, near Fort Worth. The Tiger coach vouches for his quarterback's genuine love and desire to reach the world with the message of the Gospel.

"As a young man, Sed has always been a very outspoken, devoted believer," Sartain said. "His character and disposition exemplifies grace and peace. Sed loves people and has never displayed anything but that around us. His trademark around the field house is his constant singing of gospel songs. Unashamed and bold in his witness for the Lord, he is respected for his faith by all his teammates."

Harris talks openly today about growing up in the tough parts of Fort Worth, surrounded by drugs, gangs, violence and too often, death. He credits Regina as being a guiding force in his early years, constantly raising him in a home that stressed Christian beliefs and principles. He did not have the daily presence or influence of his father, but he says he has four uncles who were and still are pastors and preachers, which also helped him grow in his faith in terms of having influence.

But even at a young age, surrounded by both a strong family as well as dangerous outside influences, Sed says his heart reached out to his friends and classmates. At school, he would talk with other children about the perils of the 'hood and the temptations that face them on a daily basis. He also told them there was a way out that didn't involve violence. The way out was through Christ.

"I was never really at a point where I was ever scared myself, but I could see my friends who weren't really raised in the church and I could see the decisions that they made, they didn't have any alternative," Sed says. "They didn't really know anything about a Savior. So I used to preach to the kids in school, growing up, it's like natural to see things like that, to see violent things and drugs all around. But you see people who are rooted in the Word, and they know they have an escape route from all that stuff because of the Lord. That was always instilled in me growing up."

With a solid spiritual foundation off the field, Sed eased into a life of being a standout athlete. He says he was used as a "running back that could throw the ball a long way" at Everman, never really getting much experience as a true quarterback. His dream of playing in the NFL one day drove him, not necessarily for personal gain or recognition, but as providing him with an even bigger stage for giving his testimony as a born-again Christian.

He attended a football camp at Hardin-Simmons, which is a standout Division III program out in Abilene, Texas. The Cowboys showed interest in him as a result of his performance at the camp, Sed says, but he had no interest in attending a Division III school. That was not part of his plan, whatsoever.

He was recruited early on in the process, late in his junior year, by Division I programs such as Kansas State, TCU and Louisiana-Lafayette. All of them, however, while genuinely interested, gave him no indication they wanted him to play quarterback. With his heart set on playing quarterback in college, he committed to New Mexico Military Institute, a junior college.

During the recruiting process he had been contacted by ETBU coaches, specifically former Tigers assistant Benny Ellison. He looked at the distance he would be traveling to New Mexico – as opposed to the three hours or so down I-20 to Marshall – and also was intrigued by the Christian atmosphere at ETBU. At the last moment, Sed switched his commitment and decided to play Division III, non-scholarship football.

He admits part of the reason why he wanted to avoid D-III was ego. He felt he had Division I skills and felt obviously to have a realistic shot at the NFL, he would have to play Division I. But over the years, Sed credits God with breaking him down and giving him one small realization – it wasn't all about what Sed Harris wanted. It was what God wanted for Sed Harris.

"My first question was would I have a chance to start and play quarterback (at ETBU)," he says. "Coach Ellison was straight with me and told me if I came in shape and worked hard I would have a great chance to do whatever I wanted. So, not being the starter as a freshman that year was really, really tough on me. Very tough."

Still very young and raw as a quarterback, with obvious physical skills, Harris saw limited time on the varsity that freshman season in 2008 – none of it at quarterback. He did play on the junior varsity and had some dazzling moments, and he had a cup of coffee on Saturdays as a kick returner. But no big-time varsity snaps.

For a competitor like Sed, that was tough to take. He tried to lean on his faith and trust God that everything was under control, but in the end his flesh began to bark at him. It was time to leave. Go home and give up football. You are better than this.

"I started hinting to people that I was leaving, and wasn't coming back," he says. "I skipped a team meeting in the spring and (former coach Cody Robinson) came to my dorm room and talked to me straight up. I was just very humbled that year, but I know now that God was just teaching me a lesson that I already knew but didn't accept.

"Be still ... and wait. So I decided to stay."

As it turns out, that decision has paid dividends for both the Tigers and the quarterback. But there were more dark days ahead.

He started the first six games of the year as a sophomore in 2008. Following a 179-yard, two-touchdowns rushing performance in a comeback win over Texas Lutheran in his fourth start, Harris was named the conference Offensive Player of the Week and had begun to create some headaches for opposing defenses.

Two weeks later, as he was continually getting better every week, disaster struck. Scrambling for a first down in the first half against, ironically, Hardin-Simmons – after gaining 47 yards on his first seven carries with a touchdown on a soggy field at Ornelas Stadium – Harris was hit near the ETBU sideline and came up limping. Then he couldn't put any wait on his leg at all.

Broken leg. Season over. Be still, and wait.

"That time in my life, I look back on now and see it as another lesson from God that I can give Him glory," Sed says. "I had started looking at my stats and feeling pretty good about myself. Then all of a sudden it was taken away again. Through the injury I made a commitment to God that from then on, anything I did on the football field or off, I was going to give him the glory for it. I don't look at stats anymore or even worry about them. I just try to do my best and help my team win as the quarterback. All glory to God."

He returned to the starting lineup in 2010 a new man, and it showed in his first game back. He ripped off record runs of 95 and 98 yards on a 261-yard rushing performance that also saw him pass for 143 yards and two touchdowns, as the Tigers knocked off UW-La Crosse 33-20 in the season opener. He finished the season rushing for 130 yards or more in three of the final four games of the season, which helped him surge to the ASC rushing title.

The improvement and full season as the Tigers' quarterback fueled him going into this past offseason, when Harris determined to work on becoming the complete package as a college quarterback. Running had always been his first inclination, and he was quite good at it. But Sartain and other coaches had been preaching to him since his first practice in an ETBU uniform that to be a quarterback at this level, he had to become multi-dimensional.

"He is still a work in progress attempting to become a quarterback that just happens to be a gifted athlete, rather than a gifted athlete that just happens to be a quarterback," Sartain said. "Being such a tremendous athlete and having had so much success on pure instinct has made it even more difficult to trust scheme first but he continues to become more and more trusting in that.

"He is the complete skill set. Sed has an incredibly strong arm while at the same time he is a very accurate passer. It's a combination rare among those who play the position. He has every throw in his arsenal and coupled with the explosiveness and elusiveness he is most noted for, he is truly a nightmare for defensive coordinators."

Harris' development and the indication he still has much to learn was no more evident than last week's 34-10 loss at Wesley, the third-ranked team in the nation. Sed completed his first 10 passes, and coupled with his performance in a game scrimmage the week before, had completed the first 23 passes he'd thrown this season.

But late in the first half, with ETBU driving, he threw a pass that appeared to be just slightly underthrown down the sideline. The Wesley cornerback made a nice play to leap and make the interception, and a 78-yard runback set up a Wolverine touchdown that gave Wesley a 14-7 halftime lead. Harris was picked off again on the next drive when a linebacker made a diving interception, and a tipped pass in the end zone in the third quarter was also intercepted. On the day, which started out with him red-hot, ended with a disappointing four interceptions.

But lost in the turnovers was this: Harris completed 26 of 41 passes, for a 63 percent completion rate. That was by far the best completion rate of his career. And, he finished with a career-high 259 yards to go along with a team-high 61 yards rushing on 12 attempts.

Minus the mistakes, that's the Sed Harris ETBU coaches have been dreaming about – a quarterback that produces both by air and by land. It proved that he doesn't have to be one or the other – there's plenty of room for both.

For his part, Sed says he was undeterred by the interceptions last week and vows he will come back strong.

"Even after the game and into this week, yes, it still makes me mad that I threw those picks and I felt like I cost us a game we should have won," he says. "But I've also learned that for me to do what I need to do, you have to forget about that stuff and just move on. I can't help us this week worrying about what happened last week. I can't worry about the last play, even, because I've got this next play coming up."

And for anyone thinking a spiritual man can't play quarterback effectively or takes away from his competitiveness, Sed just smiles.

"I'm not so spiritually-minded that I can't do earthly good," he says with a grin. "I want to win, and I want my team to be successful. And in doing so I want God to get all the glory."

So the journey continues for Sed Harris. It started long ago before he was even born, and it has carried him to this moment, this time as the senior starting quarterback at ETBU. One of his biggest fans is his coach, who sees what was once an immature, extremely raw quarterback prospect transforming into a man.

"He has made tremendous strides since arriving on our campus, in applying his faith and his overall maturity," Sartain said. "He has become much more coachable and more equipped to deal with the disappointment as well as just the weight of the position he plays. He is a tremendous young man and I am the better coach and man for having had him in my program."

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