By Ben Johnson
TAHLEQUAH — Kyler Harris was one hit away from never playing football again. That’s the kind of peril his football life was in during the 2012 season at Northeastern State.
“If I would have taken direct contact — helmet contact — it would have shattered the bone completely,” Harris said of his right leg. “They would of had to of put in a steel rod, and I would have been done.”
Now for a little backstory on Harris, a 6-foot, 185-pound safety for the RiverHawks.
At the beginning of the 2012 season, Harris was off to a fast start for NSU. He logged seven tackles and had an interception in the RiverHawks’ season opener against Pittsburg State.
However, his follow-up performance in Week 2 was derailed. Against Missouri Southern, Harris made a cut and his leg provided a noise that no athlete wants to hear.
“It just cracked in half,” Harris recalled.
Turns out, Harris — who missed most of his senior season of high school football at Muskogee due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury — had a cyst on his tibia, which weakened the bone in his leg.
“At the very top of my tibia, there was a cyst that had formed in the middle of my bone and hollowed out my bone,” Harris said. “So it shattered it.”
Fortunately for Harris, he re-injured his leg on a simple cut — and not from a running back or wide receiver rolling up on him. Had that happened, Harris’ career at NSU would have been ended prematurely.
“That’s pretty terrifying,” Harris said. “But, God’s got my back.”
NSU head coach Kenny Evans believes that playing football helped Harris identify the serious ailment.
“It is scary, because he could have shattered that whole leg because it was hollow down the middle,” Evans said. “But thanks to football, he found out about the injury. They were able to actually fill the bone with a substance that’s going to make his leg that much stronger.”
Prior to finding out the details of his injury, Harris was afraid he endured another ACL injury.
“Honestly, the biggest thing I was scared about was tearing my ACL again,” Harris said. “The doctors told me that coming back from the same tear in the same knee was pretty minimal. I was terrified that I tore my ACL, because I knew I was hurt.”
Once those fears were put to rest, Harris began the recovery process, which he described as a “miraculously fast recovery.” But versus risking coming back too soon, Harris opted to sit out the rest of the 2012 season and apply for a medical redshirt, which was granted to him.
Then, when he returned to the field for the spring game in April, Harris led the Green team to a 29-0 shutout. He also had a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown.
It’s a sign of good things to come for Harris and the rest of the defensive backfield, which will also feature Victor Johnson alongside Harris at safety and Vernon Jones and Chandler Barr at both cornerback positions. Then, toss in Marquintin Grant, Marquin Watts, Darrian Winston and Aaron Fowler, and the 2013 version of the RiverHawks’ secondary has the potential to be potent.
“With Victor Johnson at safety, it’s about as good as you could ask for as a coach,” Evans said. “The one concern with those two (Harris and Johnson) are the new rules about launching, because now you’re not only penalized but you’re also out of the game.”
New rule or not, Harris and Johnson could form a dynamic duo at safety for the RiverHawks. Now the key is staying healthy.
Q and A with Kyler Harris:
What are you wanting to do after college?
“Go into coaching. My dad Rusty Harris was a coach for 32 years, and he’s retired now. He coached at Muskogee (offensive coordinator under Matt Hennesy) and about 100 different places before that.”
Coaches have said that NFL scouts are looking at Victor Johnson to potentially play at the next level. Do you feel any added pressure playing along side him, knowing that more people are watching?
“It’s always fun to have people coming down to look at your teammates. Hopefully you show out well, so they can have a shot at you. If God leads me that way and gives me an opportunity, then I’ll take it. If not, I’ll just plan for my life.
What is something about Kyler Harris that people might not know about?
“I’m a diehard Christian. Jesus has been my Lord and Savior since I was little bitty. After college and outside of coaching, I want to preach.”
What do you do in your free time to strengthen your faith?
“There is a campus ministry here called Chi Alpha that I’m a part of. There is a preacher there named Baxter Stewart that I kind of study under. He’s led me in my walk.”
What is your favorite Bible verse?
“Philippians 3:14 — I press on toward the goal for the prize for which God has called me.”
What do you like do during your free time?
“I have a girlfriend, Madison Reed. She also went to Muskogee and we just hang out all the time. Then I also hang out with Aaron Fowler, who is also from Muskogee, and then Steffon Herd.
With Reed being on the NSU softball team, have you become a big softball fan?
“I’m a diehard softball fan.”