Brandon Harris, the quarterback who graduated from LSU and transferred to North Carolina for his final college season, met for the first time on Monday with reporters covering the Tar Heels. Here’s a full story about what Harris is searching for at UNC.
And here are five things of note from Harris’ first scrum with the North Carolina media:
1. He sought counsel from former UNC quarterback Marquise Williams.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Williams helped lead the Tar Heels to the 2015 ACC championship game and, if Harris works out at UNC, Williams could be remembered for offering a key assist in Harris’ recruitment. Harris has never met Williams, but nonetheless sought Williams’ advice before finalizing his decision to transfer to UNC.
Said Harris: “I knew Marquise, because we trained with the same quarterback coach. … I’ve spoken to him through texts. And any time you’re making a transition like this and it’s going to be your senior year, where you started at another place for three years, you want to make sure you get it right, just because it’s your last go-around. And the opportunity and just the relationship Marquise had with coach Fedora, and everything he told me – I did my research, and it kind of checked out.”
2. Harris has gone from playing for a Miles to playing alongside a Miles.
Les Miles recruited Harris to LSU and was his head coach there until Miles was fired midway through last season. Miles’ son, Manny, is a walk-on quarterback at UNC. And so Harris and the younger Miles share some history, and some familiarity.
“Me and Manny got a good relationship,” Harris said. “I’ve known Manny since being in 11th grade, and Manny has been another big help to learn this offense.”
This was noted in the story above but it bears repeating, too: Harris is still loyal to Les Miles.
“Coach Miles is one of the greatest coaches in college football history,” Harris said. “I love the dude to death. If he was recruiting me again today, I’d probably commit to him again. Things just didn’t work out.”
3. UNC’s version of the up-tempo spread has won over Harris.
This is how Harris answered the simple question of what he likes about UNC’s offense:
“I think just the opportunity of how open it is, spread-wise, the different levels of how you can execute within the offense, and I also like the quarterback coach (Keith Heckendorf) who works with me, I think he’s one of the best I’ve ever been around from explaining the game and breaking it down in its simplest forms where you can understand it, go out there and play at a high level as a quarterback.”
4. The greatest challenge so far? Footwork.
The casual observer might overlook the significance of a quarterback’s footwork, or take it for granted, but it’s one of the biggest determinants of success. At UNC, Harris will have to change his footwork to adapt to the Tar Heels’ offense, which is much different from the offense Harris played in at LSU.
There, he regularly lined up under center and was required to master five- and seven-step drop backs. In UNC’s offense, though, there’s really no such thing as dropping back to pass, as quarterbacks almost exclusively operate out of the shotgun.
“Our footwork that we take here is totally different than what I did at LSU,” Harris said. “Out of the spread and under center is totally different.”
5. One of his main competitors has been one of his best teammates.
Harris and Nathan Elliott are likely the two favorites to start at quarterback when UNC begins the season on Sept. 3 against California. They are splitting repetitions evenly and sharing time with the first-team offense (though there isn’t much of a set first-team offense, with all that UNC lost).
Off the practice field, Harris and Elliott are rooming together where the Tar Heels are staying throughout the preseason. They’ve developed a strong relationship in a short time, with Harris describing Elliott as “one of the best teammates” he’s ever had.
“Nate was a big part of helping me, and helping me learn the offense,” Harris said. “He’s going into his third season with it. And even though from the outside looking in it’s competition, but that spoke volumes about him for him to help me with it, any questions that I may have had.”