Inside the Numbers With Tyler Harris
By BJ Bennett
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Who Tyler Harris is far beats what he has. No opponent, no matter the odds, gets in his way.
The numbers, for Tyler Harris, are there. He goes through them every single day. The 6'4'', 221-pound quarterback from Pierce County High School in Blackshear, Georgia, has totals that date back years, figures you wouldn't believe. Records can be found back home or at his dorm. Obsessive even, the strong-armed signal caller carries them with him wherever he goes. After 5,200-plus yards and 50 touchdowns the last two years, the book-keeping has understandably become quite tedious.
Data-in-tow, Harris isn't tallying passing stats or wins or losses. As an 18-year old, he's gauging life and death.
Harris was diagnosed with type one diabetes, also known as juvenile-onset diabetes, when he was just two years old. He's been bound by a challenging set of parameters ever since. The much less common version of the condition, type one diabetes occurs when the pancreas no longer produces the regulatory hormone insulin. That key part of physiological functioning must be manually replaced. Type one diabetics check their blood sugar with a finger prick multiple times a day, then administer shots or program a catheter-connected pump accordingly.
Chronic and potentially-debilitating, type one diabetes can present a myriad of problems as a natural process of the human body is essentially being externally mimicked. Blood sugar fluctuations cause confusion, fatigue, mood swings, pain and discomfort. Illnesses can be more significant, injuries can be more severe. If not properly managed, the risk of long-term complications like amputation, blindness, heart attack and stroke increase dramatically. The lifestyle of a type one diabetic must be one based on a specific schedule. Staying true to form can be difficult in the heat of competition.
"When you get into the moment of the game and your adrenaline starts pumping, sometimes it will shoot your blood sugar levels up. But I was blessed and had a couple trainers on the sidelines at all times and they would be right there with me. If I ever needed anything, I would have it and we would monitor it throughout the game," Harris recalled on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. "It hasn’t been that been that big of a deal for me and I hope that transfers over into college as well."
Generally, the goal is to keep blood sugar levels within the 80-130 mg/dL range. Harris, with that in mind, is one of the only prospects in the country whose most important scores don't come in the classroom or on the football field. Before anything else, he must work diligently to simply keep his health on par. Such a commitment isn't an isolated trait for Harris, who has long pushed through adversity to lead as a well-rounded student-athlete in a tight-knit community.
One of the nation's most highly-touted prep prospects, Harris recently enrolled at the University of Central Florida. The Knights just completed their best season in school history, going 12-1, winning the American Athletic Conference, beating Baylor 52-42 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and finishing in the top ten of the national AP poll. Harris turned down offers from multiple SEC schools, Alabama included, to sign with George O'Leary and UCF. Ranked as a four-star talent by ESPN, Harris de-committed from Southern Methodist before making his final decision.
"On my visit I got to catch a game and I just felt at home. It is a lot closer to home for me, it's only three hours away, so it’s convenient for my family to come down and watch me play," he explained. "It was really just a matter of comfort and just being closer to home."
Wearing number eight for the Knights as he did in high school, Harris is now a major college quarterback. Most analysts feel like he has the skill set to play right away. Harris, from a physical standpoint, already looks the part. Mentally, he has handled responsibilities and rigors beyond his years. Discipline and time management were traits were forcefully injected into his life as a toddler. Harris begins his next freshman season with a lot on his plate, but even more on his resume. He is one of the most prolific passers in Peach State history.
"I feel very confident," he acknowledged. "Charlie Taft, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, said that the way he runs his offense, he molds it around what his quarterback does best and he is going to play to my strengths. Hopefully we get that worked out and get the offense rolling well down there. I look forward to it, it’s going to be a challenge. I'm ready to start competing."
Harris will be one of the signal callers vying to replace star quarterback Blake Bortles, a special talent who decided to forgo his senior season of eligibility in pursuit of professional dreams. Bortles completed 68% of his passes for 3,581 yards and 25 touchdowns as a junior and is widely considered to be one of the front-runners to be the number one overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Much like Harris, Bortles is a big, physical athlete at 6'4', 230 pounds. The high school numbers of the two are remarkably similar.
As he transitions to the next level, Harris has already learned from his high-profile predecessor. Bortles has offered valuable guidance and insight, right from the top of the football world.
"He said the fan base is amazing and that they will always have your back down there. One of the things I’ve learned from him, he said, 'when you come down, just take everything in, but don’t let it overwhelm you and stay poised.' I look forward to our relationship growing," Harris nodded.
Though the setting has changed for Harris, his story has not. A Bear or a Knight, a teenager or adult, history, for Harris, has long been repeating. His routine remains the same. It's one Harris and his family have had to perfect over the years. Despite diabetes, Harris is healthy and has a powerful outlook and perspective. Unlike many his age, he is well-aware of the delicacy of the human body and knows exactly what it takes for him to be at his best.
"I think it was a blessing and a curse, really," he stated of his diagnosis. "When you are growing up, it’s kind of hard to learn that you can’t have some of the sweet things that other people can have. To maintain your health is obviously a big thing, so learning to eat healthier foods and maintain my sugar has really helped me. When it's maintained, it's really not that big of a deal. If I keep it controlled, I'm just like anybody else."
Expectations are high for Harris, who will figure into the mix right away for Central Florida under center. Scouts rave about his arm strength and field vision in addition to his prototypical size. Above all else, perhaps, Harris is a winner. He won 20 total games as a junior and senior at Pierce County, advancing in the postseason each of those two years.
Being poked and prodded is nothing new for Harris, but the evaluation process for a top recruit is one that covers all angles. Harris has been judged as a passer and a runner, mechanically and structurally. As the spotlight grows, he's now being looked at as something more -- a big, tough example of passion and persistence. Even with type one diabetes, which can leave patients and tired and weak, Harris is a skyscraping specimen of limitless muscle and grit. Circumstances took his pancreas. His heart, however, measures off the charts.
"I would just tell them to not let it hold you back. Just because you have type one diabetes doesn’t mean you are at a disadvantage at all. That’s the way I look at it," Harris shared to kids going through what he has. "I feel like I’m just like anyone else, but I know I do have diabetes. If you work through it and control it then you’re just like anyone else. That’s what I would tell them, to not let that kill your dreams or the goals you have set for yourself. Work through it and persevere and you’ll be fine."
Who Harris is far beats what he has. No opponent, no matter the odds, gets in his way. Talk with the quarterback, and diabetes, with his south Georgia drawl, doesn't ever come up. Harris is a college student, a football player and a young man with big-time potential. Just know he's keeping count.