Fort Mill Times

THOMAS HARRIS: New challenges ahead

Recent Indian Land graduate Thomas Harris tries to turn Waddell's Tyler Gardner in a 145-pound championship match this past season.
Recent Indian Land graduate Thomas Harris tries to turn Waddell's Tyler Gardner in a 145-pound championship match this past season.

Since he was a kid, Thomas Harris wanted to be a Marine.

Beginning this summer, the 2009 Indian Land graduate will take the first steps toward making that dream a reality.

After being accepted to all three U.S. military academies - the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., the Military Academy (Army) in West Point, N.Y., and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., - Harris decided to attend the Naval Academy.

A leader on the Warriors' wrestling team and aspiring mechanical engineer, Harris was accepted to the University of South Carolina and Clemson as well, but decided to fulfill his dream of becoming a Marine while majoring in engineering at the academy.

The standout wrestler will also compete for a spot on the academy's wrestling team.

"My dad taught me a lot about the Naval Academy, and sometime around the middle of my junior year I decided I really wanted to apply," Harris said. "It felt great to get into all three. I'm pretty excited."

Only a select few midshipmen are selected for officer training in the Marine Corps. The process is arduous from the beginning.

Applying to a military academy in a much more in-depth process than filling out a typical school application.

Harris had to receive recommendations from South Carolina senators or congressman for each application, which involved submitting detailed information and, in some cases, panel interviews. It was Rep. John Spratt (D-York), whose ancestor was the first European settler in what would become Fort Mill, who recommended Harris to be accepted to the Naval Academy.

Senators Jim DeMint and Lindsay Graham also recommended Harris for the Military and Air Force Academies. Graham, South Carolina's senior senator, is an Air Force veteran who holds the rank of colonel and still serves as a senior instructor at the Air Force JAG School and other capacities.

"That was cool. It gives you a lot of confidence in yourself - knowing that they looked at your information and decided you're good enough to go," Harris said about the three recommendations.

As a midshipman (the academy's term for a Naval officer in training), Harris will begin his college experience July 1, when he will report for rigorous physical training during July and August, known as "plebe summer."

"I've been working out a lot this summer. I'm what I would call in shape. I don't know how that will stack up to their 'in shape,'" Harris said. "I think being on [the Indian Land] wrestling team will definitely come in handy this summer. Coach [Mike] Kersey pushed us hard. But I'm sure it will be hard no matter where you're from."

At the Naval Academy, every student has the opportunity to try out for an athletic team in their first year.

Although Harris was heavily recruited as a wrestler by the Military Academy, he is still excited about trying to work his way onto the Navy wrestling team.

"It's a whole different speed, another level in Division 1 college wrestling," he said. "I'm just hoping I can get on the team, get into the practice room with those guys and work my way up."

During plebe summer, Harris will have the opportunity to work with some of the school's coaches while the teams are still open.

"I'm excited about the whole experience - going to the academy, the academics, all the people I'm going to meet," Harris said.

Harris was one of 1,200 students accepted to the Naval Academy this year, only 8 percent of the more than 15,000 applicants.

His mother, Vickie, said she knew for a long time that Thomas would fit in at a military school, especially since he decided he wanted to be a Marine.

"This is something he has always wanted to do," she said. "We think he is ready for it and we're excited for him."