He has recreated the moment in his mind several times. Ron Harris knows his father heard him on the night of Sept. 6. If it were up to Harris, he would have said those nine words a lot sooner - not at WakeMed Hospital.
"I'll never disappoint you," Harris told his father, Ronald Harris, who was in the hospital after suffering four severe strokes. "I'll never let you down."
Harris, 18, knew his father could die soon. After almost a month, doctors hadn't seen any improvement in his father.
Every night in the hospital, Harris read the Bible to his father. He'd flipped to the reference section for words on love, faith and healing. Harris ended every night with the same three verses: James 5:13-15.
But on that night, Harris felt uneasy. That's what led him to make his promise.
The next day, Ronald Harris passed away at age 53.
"That day changed my life," Ron Harris said.
Since then, Harris says he has kept his promise in many ways. His grades haven't fallen. He's stayed away from trouble. And in football - the sport his father loved most - Harris has excelled at middle linebacker for Leesville Road.
Harris, a senior, helped the Pride to its first undefeated regular season in school history. Tonight, Leesville Road (12-0) will face Garner (13-0) in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA playoffs.
This will be the Pride's toughest challenge, and Harris understands that. He's not afraid. He has faith. That's because Harris knows his father's death has motivated him to get the Pride this far.
The son always wondered what his father was thinking. That's how Ronald Harris kept his son close to him.
Ronald Harris preached a life of order. As a cook for Lynnwood Grill, he appreciated people who utilized preparation. He was also the ultimate family man: A devoted father, a loyal husband and a firm disciplinarian.
Though he also had three sisters, Ron Harris, the youngest, felt his father was harder on him than his sisters.
"He'd let you know when something wasn't acceptable," said Ron Harris, who will study psychology in college. "He always said, 'Think for yourself. Be a leader.'"
Once football was introduced, Ronald Harris' passion became his son's. That meant coaches weren't going to be the only ones teaching his son during games. Last season, Devin Williamson, a junior defensive back, noticed Ronald Harris in the stands.
"I heard him always yelling at Ron," Williamson said. "After every play, I just heard a voice yelling at him."
The father always shouted three things: "Think with your head! Be quick! Pick up your legs!"
Becoming a leader
Harris expected his father to help him get ready for this season, but on the morning of Aug. 10, Ronald Harris interrupted his mother on the phone.
"My hand is hurting," Ronald Harris told her.
A few minutes later, Harris collapsed on the kitchen floor. His wife of 30 years, Dorean, was coming home from a staff meeting at the Wake County sheriff's office. When she arrived, she was told to call 911.
At the hospital, doctors determined Ronald Harris had a blood clot in his brain that had broken and caused the strokes. After a six-hour surgery, his body was nonresponsive. He never regained consciousness, and never opened his eyes again.
"We always joked about walking with canes together," she said. "We never talked about one of us dying."
What she didn't know was what her husband told her son a few years earlier. After two weeks of being in the hospital, Ron Harris explained his father's request: If Ronald Harris couldn't take care of himself, and take care of his family, he didn't want to be here.
When his father passed away, Ron Harris knew exactly what he had to. He had to become a leader.
Playing for his father
Harris found normalcy by putting on football pads. When the season started, Harris led Leesville Road's defense in a shutout over Panther Creek. He didn't hesitate playing against Enloe, either - the first game after his father died.
"I felt I had to go out there and play for him - to celebrate his life," Harris said.
But Harris had his worst performance of the season against the Eagles. He made mental mistakes and missed two critical tackles, one which resulted in an eight-yard touchdown run. Though the Pride won 63-29, Harris cried after game. He felt he had let his father down. Disappointed, Harris stood up in front of his teammates.
"I messed up in this game," he told them. "This will never happen again. I promise."
Harris' honesty stayed with Brendan Lough, a senior defensive end.
"It's hard when you know there's something going on with one of your brothers that you're really close with," Lough said. "A lot of us don't know what Ron really went through. It was nice to hear."
When first-year coach Chad Smothers watched film each week, he saw Harris blossoming into one of his best defenders.
"Ron has done a tremendous job," Smothers said of Harris, who has 85 tackles and two sacks. "We preach being a family, and I think he's leaned on us as a source of strength."
Smothers also noticed Harris becoming a vocal leader. No moment better illustrated that than the during Leesville Road's road game against Wakefield. In the first half, the Pride allowed 28 points, the most this season. To inspire his teammates, Harris made another speech.
"I will not quit you all!" he said. "You are my family! I didn't quit on my dad when he was on his deathbed! The doctors told me he wouldn't survive! I still didn't quit on him! We're a family! Don't quit! Let's stick together!"
Lough said he felt chills. The defense made a fourth-down stop in the fourth quarter and Leesville Road went on to win 67-58.
His father's legacy
Harris said Leesville Road's defense will have to be the difference tonight against Garner. That's because both teams average over 45 points a game.
Dorean Harris has prayed before every game that the Pride will win and she'll continue that tonight. She also hopes the PA announcer will call her son's name a lot - after he records a tackle or creates a turnover.
No matter what happens against Garner, she knows her husband would be proud of his son.
"It's made him play harder," she said. "I think he's become more mature."
Ron Harris was the last of Dorean Harris' four children to speak at her husband's funeral. It was at Mitchell Funeral Home - just days after the Enloe game. In front of his family, friends and teammates, Ron Harris read a short letter to his father.
"Although my Dad may never have said it out loud, I know that he was truly proud of his children," he said. "Thank you, Dad. I am proud to carry on your legacy."