Antonio Harris didn’t want to bother anyone.
Harris is a 6-foot-4, 310-pound dominant left tackle and unmovable defensive tackle who holds scholarship offers from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, Buffalo, James Madison, Old Dominion, Coastal Carolina, North Carolina, Charlotte, Howard, Delaware State and Howard. He led Henry A. Wise High School to the 4A state title, had opposing coaches rave about him and won The Gazette’s Player of the Year honor.
But three years ago, he was just a big kid who was academically ineligible to play sports. Though he wanted to play football, he never approached Wise coach DaLawn Parrish about working out with the team or joining it once his grades improved.
“I didn’t want to waste their time,” Harris said. “Every day, somebody comes to him, ‘I want to play football.’ Coaches look at them like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. I hear that all the time.’”
But Harris’ plan to fix his academic problems on his own hit a snag when an administrator and assistant coach noticed him after the season and set up a meeting between Harris and Parrish.
“Immediately, I called his mom and to be like, ‘Can he please stay with us? I’ll take care of him. We’ll start working on his grades in study hall. We’ll have him lifting weights with us,’” Parrish said. “She said, ‘Of course. He needs something to be doing.’”
It might be one of the best moves Parrish, The Gazette’s Coach of the Year, has ever made.
“I always tell people, ‘Coach P was probably one of the main reasons why I am where I am now,’” Harris said. “Your parents can only do so much. You have to have one other person in your life to keep pushing you, to make sure you stay on track. And Coach P was that person. He pushed me and pushed me, and ever since he got my grades changed, he never let me fall again.”
To Harris’ credit, he made Parrish’s job easy and there were plenty of positive signs immediately. With positive influences surrounding him in study hall, Harris improved his grades. And in the weight room, he attacked workouts with intensity.
When Wise took the field the following year, Harris was eligible and ready to dominate.
“In this day and era of throwing the ball and finesse play, he’s nasty. He’s big and nasty,” Parrish said. “The same fun-loving kid that you find off the field, when he steps on that field, he’s nothing but a ball of energy, passion and physicality. He just plays the game [the way] linemen should. He wants to get dirty. He wants you to get dirty.”
Parrish, when he’s yelling at a Wise player other than Harris, enjoys catching Harris out of the corner of his eyes. Harris, who can do a quality Parrish impression, often snickers as if he’s enjoying the real deal. But when Parrish yells at Harris, the coach says Harris always is the “yes sir, no sir,” type.
“I laugh sometimes when he yells at me,” Harris said. “I’ve been with him for a long time, so I know he don’t really mean it. He’s trying to make you mad so he can get the best out of you.”
And Parrish has. Harris’ blocking — which often prevents teammates from getting knocked down at all — is, in many ways, an extension of the lessons he’s learned at Wise.
“It’s hard to pick yourself back up,” Harris said. “That’s why I thank Coach P for picking me up when I was down.”