By Ben Donovan
For cornerback Tim Harris, the second half of his college career has not looked anything like what he expected. Coming out of his junior year, Harris was where he set out to be.
He had just started nine of Virginia’s 12 games. In the final game of the 2015 season, Harris came down with a crucial interception against rival Virginia Tech to maintain a tie late in the third quarter. Harris had the NFL in his sites, a goal that appeared firmly within his grasps as he went through his fourth training camp and preseason.
In the second game of the 2016 season, though, tragedy struck as a nagging shoulder injury finally became too much and he opted for surgery that sidelined him for the entire campaign. After spending the year rehabbing and refocusing, the experience repeated itself, as a week-one wrist injury brought on another surgery and another year spent off the football field. Despite the setbacks, Harris always knew he wanted to finish his collegiate career.
“I ended up staying because I feel like I have something to prove,” Harris said. “This last year is something special to me, something I’ve always wanted to do and something I couldn’t give up on. At times, I had doubt it would happen but I have come back to face it because I don’t want to live my life with regrets.”
Instead of letting those injuries affect him, Harris spent the past two seasons bettering himself.
“During that time, I was trying to perfect my craft,” Harris said. “Going in the film room and watching film of my old games and [planning] how I can turn it into new stuff, keeping up with conditioning and how I can stay fit, different things like that was a big help for me. I got into reading a lot, I read a couple of books. I love to fish, so me and Juan (Thornhill) went fishing sometimes to take my mind off of it.”
But more than focusing on himself, Harris began to lean into his natural propensity for helping others. Harris stepped into the role of assisting the coaching staff. Taking what he had learned both through playing football and in his time off, Harris began to guide the younger players on the team.
“I love to work with people, teaching other guys what to do,” Harris said. “I think it was good for me to stay and teach. I have been here so long that I can help newcomers that are trying to figure it all out. I made my way back to the facility to start working with the younger guys, within my position group. Whether it was technique, learning formations or anything on the field, I tried to help them with their play.”
The coaches began to recognize this change in Harris’ actions, and began pushing him into even more active roles within the team.
“During that time, I was actually helping out the coaches on the field with signals and with personnel,” Harris said. “So I had the headset on, giving out the personnel [on the field] to Coach Mendenhall so he could call out the play.”
Harris began to recognize that this role not only suited him, but that he enjoyed it. Now looking towards the future, Harris can see three alternatives for himself.
“Of course, for everybody, their dream is to go to the NFL,” Harris said, discussing his plans after finishing his sixth and final year at Virginia.
Beyond playing football, Harris has career aspirations focused on helping others. While he has not decided what he would pursue, he quickly presented two options when asked about it.
“If I wasn’t playing football, I kind of want to be an FBI agent,” Harris said. “My dad’s best friend is an FBI agent and him hanging out at the house and talking to him made me interested in that field.
“Either that or I would love to coach, because I love to teach. Teaching other people what to do on the field, I like helping people out a lot. So it’s between the FBI and getting involved with the law and teaching people and helping people out.”
The last two years at Virginia have helped Harris gain perspective on the life of a coach, perspective he values and wishes to build on.
“After I graduate, I might want to become a graduate assistant one day so that I can really get into coaching,” Harris said. “I kind of want to move to Florida. I want to get to the heat. It is cold here. I see myself having a family of course, and I could see myself coaching honestly. Doing something that I love to do.”
Whichever path Harris decides to take, his six years at Virginia provide pivotal lessons for him to take with him.
“I learned to cherish every moment,” Harris said. “Injuries are going to happen, it can happen to anyone and it was just a freak accident. I have come back strong and learned that nothing can get in my way, nothing can stop me.”