THIBODAUX — After LSU’s win over Florida last season, its quarterback, Brandon Harris, criticized the doubters in front of a room full of reporters.
The doubters, mostly included ESPN “SportsCenter” anchors and analysts, talking heads who were down on the Tigers’ passing game despite a 5-0 start.
“Apparently,” he said then, “people think I can’t throw.”
Harris never spoke to the media again last season — a gag order placed on the starting quarterback by coach Les Miles. Harris is a free speaker, a truth-teller not afraid to share his feelings and thoughts with radio hosts, print journalists and TV cameramen.
That hasn’t changed since that postgame news conference in October.
“I really do feel like I have the best arm in college football and got the best team in college football,” he said Friday during 30-minute interview at the Manning Passing Academy at Nicholls State. “I get it all of the time: ‘Can you throw??? I just look at it and laugh at it. As we continue to grow as a team, we’ll get the last laugh.”
Less than 20 minutes later, Harris berated himself.
“I take full responsibility for last year. I was terrible,” he said. “I was straight-out bad. I’m telling you right now, people can sleep if they want to about this season, but we’ll see who gets the last laugh.”
Ten weeks before a season-opening showdown against Wisconsin at Lambeau Field, the competitive juices are flowing in LSU’s presumptive starting quarterback. The confidence is there — in himself, in his teammates and in his coaches.
The drive to prove the cynic’s wrong is there, too. Harris is bent on fully displaying that powerful arm and those elusive feet that made him one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the 2014 recruiting class.
But how can he do this?
Being here will help, Harris said. In May, Archie Manning personally called to invite him to the camp, something he’s still “shocked” about. Harris is one of 30-plus college quarterbacks at the Manning Passing Academy, all of them mentoring high school and youth players during the four-day event at Nicholls. They’re also learning from each other, competing in a skills challenge Saturday and developing chemistry despite playing for rival teams.
For example, Harris loaded into Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly’s SUV on Friday afternoon for a quick lunch run. The restaurant of choice: Raising Cane’s.
Harris is picking the brains of Kelly and others. Among the topics: weight.
The Bossier City native is concerned about maintaining his weight throughout the grueling, exhausting season, exposing himself to injury. Harris suffered a sports hernia halfway through last year, playing with the injury for at least part of the final five games. An operation in January corrected the issue, but he continues to decline to answer questions specifically about its effect on his play.
“That’s a reason why I’m coming into the season bigger,” said Harris, who, at 222 pounds, is more than 10 pounds heavier than he finished last season. “If you play at 210, you drop to 205 over the season. It’s hard to maintain that weight because you’re taking licks and shots. I’m trying to come into camp at 225 and probably drop to 220 opening day. That way you’re able to run the ball, be able to be an opposing threat rather than a fragile guy in the backfield.”
Harris turned the critical eye on himself over the offseason. He watched enough tape to know he wasn’t tough enough during LSU’s 9-3 season.
“I think I was timid at times. I think I need to run the ball more physically, more dominant,” he said. “Also, too, being smart with the ball and aggressive. I turned the ball over last year down that stretch. That’s no good. This upcoming season, you’ll see a difference in mentality and morale of our team.”
That mentality and morale is “gelling” during summer workouts, Harris said. That includes 7-on-7 games, weightlifting sessions, endurance testing and conditioning drills.
The four-day get-away to Thibodaux is a brief respite for Harris from his daily summer grind. It begins at 6 a.m. at the ESPN 104.5-FM radio studio on Government Street. He’s a summer intern for the station’s morning show, Culotta & the Prince.
“Then I go to class. I have one class on campus and the other is online,” he said.
For Harris, workouts with strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt begin at 11 a.m. “We have to go run sprints and stuff like that before we even go into the weight room,” he said.
“In the afternoon,” he continued, “I spend a lot of time on football. A lot of time on football. That’s where we watch film with receivers, which is something we’re trying to hone in this year.”
Is he already studying and scouting opponents?
“Our defensive coordinator came from Wisconsin, if that helps indicate anything,” a smiling Harris said.
LSU hired away Dave Aranda from Wisconsin over the offseason, one of many storylines a part of that season opener in Green Bay.
How much has Aranda shared with Harris about the Badgers defense? To that, the quarterback isn’t so forthcoming.
“If I told that,” he said, “I’d be giving our game plan away.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @RossDellenger.