When David Harrison first saw Bobby Collins striding across the practice field at West Mecklenburg High School in 2004, he thought he was looking at the school’s newest transfer, a big one at that.
“I looked at the guy to the left and said ‘somebody’s spot is about to get took!’” recalls Harrison, who was a senior offensive guard. “Luckily, he turned out to be our (assistant) coach, which gave the tackles a sigh of relief.”
Ten years later, Collins is in his first year as the head coach at Lancaster, where the offensive linemen might have thought the same thing when they first saw Harrison’s svelte form. A cut 220 pounds, Harrison looks vastly different from, say, 2010 when he tipped the scales at 320 pounds. An All-American offensive lineman as a senior at Elon University, Harrison earned an invite to the St. Louis Rams rookie camp in 2010 and got a taste of the highest level.
“It was a good experience. That was the same year Sam Bradford came out,” he said on Monday. “I had an opportunity to meet those guys and kind of see what their day-to-day routine was like.”
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When Harrison’s NFL career didn’t pan out, Collins hired him at Hough High (N.C.), and he was one of the first assistants Collins contacted when he took the job at Lancaster earlier this year. Together, they expect to rebuild a Bruins program with four winning seasons since 2000 from the offensive line, out.
Lancaster is blessed with talent at the skill positions. Anyone who saw running back Dre Bailey’s 64-yard touchdown run against Rock Hill a week and a half ago during the Chester County Jamboree, when he looked tackled in the backfield only to break free for a long sprint to six points, could testify. Quarterback Keendarius “Red” Truesdale returns for his third year as the starter and Jay Hood is a Division I prospect at receiver.
But none of those guys can get loose if the Bruins offensive line doesn’t do its job.
“Without us, they basically can’t do anything,” said junior lineman Caleb Funderburk. “We’re trying to rush for a whole lot of yards this season, and give ‘Red’ protection so he and Jay can do what they do.”
That’s where Harrison comes in. Between he and Collins, the Bruins’ coaching staff possesses an uncommon amount of offensive line expertise and the former Elon standout isn’t shy about sharing it.
Harrison’s voice punctuates an afternoon practice on a tired Monday. His leadership qualities are obvious. A four-year starter at Elon, Harrison was a team captain his last two seasons. He generally refers to his players as “Mister Watts,” or “Mister Funderburk,” and although he rarely curses, his booming voice gets the message across as it echoes through the quiet neighborhood that surrounds Lancaster’s practice fields.
Collins knew as soon as he got to West Meck 10 years ago that Harrison was a leader of men.
“He was a very intense football player, very detailed oriented, and you don’t see that a lot with high school football players,” said Collins, who was a two-year starter at offensive tackle for S.C. State.
Harrison hasn’t been holding back with his new players, in part because he thinks they can be pretty good. The group’s leader, Trevin Watts, is a three-year starter at left tackle and is joined by fellow seniors Eaven Austin and Myles Lathan at center and right guard. Funderburk (6-foot-2, 270 pounds) and long-armed, 6-foot-4 right tackle Lewis Johnson are promising juniors.
It’s not just a bunch of hot-air shouting, though. Harrison is a technician who says he has no aspirations to be an offensive coordinator or anything else because of his passion for playing and coaching the offensive line.
“It’s a total change to have to learn technique so fast,” said Watts. “But they’re intense, they’re on it, and we’re learning a lot. We love the coach; it’s hell putting in the work, but we love it.”
Harrison asks for, and expects, the best from his players. He holds himself to the same standards, which is why he changed his diet and exercise habits after it became clear his pro football career had climaxed. Known as “Big Dave” at Elon, Harrison was an unquestioned leader that helped the Phoenix to unprecedented heights. After leading Elon to the school’s lone playoff appearance in 2009, a Burlington (N.C.) Times-News story recounted the emotional speech he gave to the freshmen coming in the next year, initiated by tossing a couple of drinks across the room to get everyone’s attention.
Harrison told his teammates “this is the start, and it will go by like that,” snapping his fingers. High school football has the same four-year term limits, and Harrison is trying to make sure his Bruins take advantage of every day, every practice, every single repetition. When he comes striding up to the practice field now, they’re not gawking; they’re already at work.
“I talk to my kids all the time about controlling what you can control; effort, attention to detail, focus, all of those are things,” said Harrison. “You can’t control the weather, the opponent or the location, and I just try to focus in on the things you can control. Beating that in their heads and making everybody feel like they have a sense of responsibility and accountability makes it all kind of go together.”