Brandon Harris arrived at LSU with a bloody hand.
A 14-game senior season at Parkway High School had left its mark: oozing calluses on the quarterback’s right hand. Upon his enrollment in January, LSU doctors spent time mending his palm, and Harris threw with a glove during spring practice.
This isn’t normal — because Harris isn’t normal.
“Never seen or heard of it,” said David Feaster, the quarterback’s coach at Parkway.
The calluses formed from how Harris throws: a tight, hard spiral; an “abrasive” ball, some call it; a “frozen rope,” others say. Harris’ passes have the same revolution at 10 yards as they do at 50.
“The popular catchphrase is, ‘Boy, he can spin it,’ ” said Dunham coach Neil Weiner, who coached against Harris at Zachary last season.
No. 15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) plans to start Harris at quarterback on Saturday in its game at No. 5 Auburn (4-0, 1-0). He’s set to be just the seventh true freshman to get a starting nod at the position for LSU in the modern era.
The Tigers will be starting a special talent — a rookie who has the personality of an adult, the passing skills of a veteran and the feet of a speedy receiver.
Who is Brandon Harris?
He’s a 6-foot-3, 188-pound gunslinger who “just wants to sling it,” according to some. He’s an ever-smiling kid who loses his car keys occasionally. He’s a smart, serious 18-year-old who speaks eloquently.
He’s a former hotly recruited prospect who nearly went to Ohio State. He’s a teenager who found it offensive when assistant coaches, while recruiting him, spoke “ghetto” to him.
He’s a guy who, as a sophomore in high school, could throw a football 74 yards and spin it so fast that he injured his receivers’ hands. He’s a student of the game who waited patiently for his turn to start while keeping calm his frustrated and angry support team.
He’s the son of a muscle-bound truck driver named “Detroit” and of a mother who’s not in his life. He’s a grandson to the matriarch of the family, a woman known by his friends simply as “grandma.”
This is Brandon Harris, a guy everyone knew would eventually get to this stage.
“You could tell he was going to be special,” said Austin Averitt, Harris’ teammate at Parkway. “After our junior season, we were talking to him about freshman year.
“He was like, ‘I didn’t know I was going to be this good,’ ” Averitt said. “In our eyes, though, we knew he’d be a Division I quarterback going on to do big things.”
A winning arm
A boy raised in Bossier City, Harris always had the arm talent and a confident way about him.
He grew up in a football family in a modest home. Members of the Harris family politely declined interview requests.
Harris spent much of his time at his grandmother’s house while his dad drove an 18-wheeler across the nation. She’s described by most as being his primary caretaker and a “huge part of his life.”
His older brother, also named “Detroit,” was a versatile athlete for Parkway, playing running back, receiver and defensive back. His father was a former football player who stands at least 6-foot-3 and is described by most as a mountain of a man. He’s a guy who would regularly attend junior high practice “to make sure Brandon is working hard,” said Chris Hill, the Parkway coach before Feaster.
Feaster took over at Parkway for Hill before Harris’ sophomore season.
Hill told him one thing about the quarterback: “He’s special.”
Even in middle school, Harris had that easy-throwing motion and spinning spiral pass.
He led the freshman team at Parkway to an 8-2 record in 2010. That same team — without Harris — lost every game as seventh- and eighth-graders.
“You take a team that hadn’t won a game in two years and they win all but two, that shows you the leadership ability,” Hill said. “He has the ability to get a team to rally behind. He has an infectious personality. People love to be around him. That’s what you look for in a quarterback.”
Averitt remembers that freshman team. He played receiver and caught those stinging spirals. “I was like, ‘Dang Brandon you’ve got to calm it down,’” Averitt told him after one practice.
“That day,” Averitt said, “I had to go get gloves.”
Harris’ spinning of the football is a characteristic coach Les Miles compares to former LSU quarterback and No. 1 draft pick JaMarcus Russell.
“It’s called hand talent,” the coach said.
“I don’t ever remember Brandon throwing a pass that wobbled,” Hill said.
Harris went 24-3 during his junior and senior seasons at Parkway, his only years as the full-time starter for Feaster. Parkway reached the quarterfinals in 2012 and lost in the state title game in 2013.
Quite a leap
Harris’ biggest jump came between the end of his sophomore season and the beginning of his senior year.
In about 18 months, he went from a frail 160 pounds to about 190.
Much more changed than his weight. He got faster. That’s not something he “just had,” Feaster said.
The coach got him to join the track team during the spring after his sophomore season. He became a hurdler.
“By his junior year,” Feaster said, “he was the second-fastest guy on the football team.”
What he did have — besides that arm — was an “explosive first step” and the deceptive ability to elude tacklers. Weiner’s Zachary team lost to a Harris-led Parkway team in the quarterfinals last year.
“The thing that stood out for us is we didn’t realize how strong of a runner he was,” Weiner said. “He’s not the thickest kid, but he’s very hard to tackle.”
Feaster compares Harris to former LSU quarterback Rohan Davey in that regard. Davey was more than 50 pounds heavier than Harris, but his tackle-breaking ability is similar.
Feaster expects LSU to pack weight on Harris during the offseason, but he said the QB is at a perfect playing weight.
“I look at him now … SEC quarterbacks like to be 230, but I like to have someone like Brandon,” he said. “He has great acceleration. His first step is amazing. The issue is can he hold up? That’s probably why you want guys to be bigger and stronger.”
A hot commodity
Following Harris’ junior season of high school, coaches began calling. They had seen video of the quick kid who could throw a 60-yard spiral.
They wanted to watch him during spring practice — and they did. At one point, Feaster had so many coaches interested that he told some — like, say, Indiana — not to bother coming down.
Offensive coordinators swooped in from Alabama, Baylor, Texas A&M, Ohio State, LSU, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee, Auburn and Mississippi State.
They all had similar reaction after speaking with Harris: “This kid’s 17?”
“Gosh coach feels like I just got off the phone with an adult,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer told Feaster once.
Coaches research kids during recruiting. Harris researched the coaches.
“Urban Meyer starts in there, ‘I coached Tim Tebow and all of these guys,’ and Brandon names quarterbacks Meyer coached at Utah,” Feaster said. “That’s how he is with all of these guys. He does the research.”
A black athlete in the South, Harris told Feaster at times that he didn’t “appreciate” some assistants talking “ghetto” toward him.
“Some of these guys think they can appeal to you like another player,” Feaster told him.
Harris used Skype to chat with Nick Saban. Feaster called him a “boring” person.
Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron used Skype with Harris as well. Feaster projected Miles and Cameron on a big screen in the Parkway weight room. The entire team sat in on it.
The quarterback narrowed his list to LSU, Auburn and Ohio State the summer before his senior season. If Ohio State hadn’t been in Ohio, Harris might be a Buckeye, Feaster said. Auburn had the draw of a snazzy spread offense and a former quarterback that Harris idolized: Cam Newton.
He was even referred by coach Gus Malzahn as “Mini Cam” during one Auburn visit.
Harris kept his decision a secret until an ESPN-televised commitment ceremony on July 18, 2013.
Most knew what school he’d choose, though.
“It came down to … he was overwhelmed with how much people up here love LSU,” Feaster said. “Everywhere he went, everyone asked him about LSU.”
Less than 15 months later, Harris will try to make history Saturday night. Since freshman became eligible in 1972, no true freshman has thrown for more than 210 yards in his first start for LSU.
The consensus: this hard-throwing, gunslinging, spiral-tossing kid will do it.
“I expect him to play outstanding,” Hill said. “That’s what he expects out of himself, what he’s expected out of himself since a ninth grade.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv. For more coverage of LSU football, follow our Tiger Tracks blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/tigertracks/.