It’s become a running joke between LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and freshman quarterback Brandon Harris.
Every time Harris executes his drop, goes through his progression and delivers an accurate pass, Cameron echoes the sentiment he shares with his prized recruit.
“Brandon, can you imagine if you were just now getting here and we’d have to deal with these mistakes again?,” Cameron quips.
Harris got a head start on learning LSU’s system during the spring after electing early enrollment, which allowed the Parkway High School product to spark a quarterback controversy before most of his fellow freshman even arrived on campus.
What can be a laughing matter for Cameron and Harris is a concern for LSU coach Les Miles, who was so undecided on naming a starting quarterback that he didn’t mention any of them by name at LSU’s media day earlier this month.
Harris and sophomore Anthony Jennings are undoubtedly the frontrunners in the quarterback battle, but Harris’ early arrival is the only reason there’s a race.
“I couldn’t imagine if I came in the summer,” Harris said. “I’m a freshman, I make freshman mistakes, and I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t. I’m not perfect at all. I would do something crazy and we’d laugh about it in the spring, and now that we’re in the fall it’s all clicking.”
The freshman’s youthful mistakes were not evident in the spring game last April – Harris accumulated 272 total yards and four total touchdowns, dwarfing his sophomore counterpart’s performance. Jennings threw only one touchdown, along with two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns , further weakening his grip on the starting job after a poor outing in the Outback Bowl to end last season.
Jennings and Harris remained neck and neck throughout the summer and fall camp, and players said they sensed no separation between the two. According to senior running back Terrence Magee, Jennings would be firmly ahead if Harris hadn’t arrived early.
“In the spring when [Harris] came in, he was really antsy,” Magee said. “He didn’t really know what was going on. As we’ve gone on into fall camp, he’s gotten comfortable and learned the offense. He’s shown great strides from what he had done in the spring up to now.”
Harris committed to LSU to play in a pro-style offense engineered by an ex-NFL coach, and Cameron’s guidance has the freshman developing at a rapid pace.
The Bossier City, La., native was already behind the learning curve after playing only four years of organized football. Harris’ tremendous athleticism helped him adjust to the speed of the college game, but his biggest challenge was learning specific drops and how to dissect defenses.
“In high school, you may have been the best player on the entire field and trusted your arm a little bit too much,” Harris said. “You were able to have improper footwork and make up for everything with your arm. At this level, we’ve got an All-American defense over there. Those guys are going to make you pay if you’re late with your footwork or anything like that.”
Harris’ natural skills served him well at Parkway, where he amassed nearly 7,500 total yards during his junior and senior seasons. He guided the Panthers to an undefeated 2013 season before falling short in the Class 5A State Championship Game.
The recruiting service Rivals.com named Harris the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback in the country, and the consensus four-star prospect participated in the Under Amour All-America Game last January. Harris is surrounded by intrigue and high expectations, but the freshman isn’t caught up in the hype.
“When everybody signs on the dotted line to come to a school like this, they think they’re the missing piece,” Harris said. “But in reality, everybody is a piece to the puzzle in trying to get this thing on the right track.”
Practicing during the spring has molded Harris into a legitimate piece of LSU’s puzzle, making established team leaders like senior left tackle La’el Collins take notice.
“He’s continued to work more on the little things in the weight room, making sure he’s on time throwing the ball and doing what he needs to do while watching film,” Collins said. “Those little things mean a lot and really make a big difference. Being able to witness him and walk in on him doing those things makes you feel good and very confident about him.”
That confidence extends from veterans to other young plays. Redshirt freshman John Diarse, who enrolled early last spring before redshirting in 2013, attested to the benefits of spending an extra semester in the system.
“We definitely look to Brandon to play a big role this year, and him getting here early gave him a chance to make his mistakes and learn things early and get on a roll,” Diarse said. “You can see the different steps he’s taken ahead of his class and how he’s matured to the position that he’s in.”
Miles still hasn’t named a starting quarterback, but Harris takes one step closer to assuming the position with each joke he and Cameron crack.
“You don’t realize how much football you don’t know until you get to a campus like this,” Harris said. “…I’m just continuing to develop and getting to the stage I need to be at. There’s a lot of football you need to know when trying to play on a big stage like at LSU.”