How a visit to Miami reignited passion for football in Laney's Javaris Harris

·5 min read

Javaris Harris is a leader. Here’s how you can tell.

As a Laney defensive line coach charged with overseeing a Tuesday afternoon workout stepped out of the weight room to look for head coach Ronnie Baker, he turned back toward the doorway, took a quick scan of the room and confidently named his short-term replacement.

“Boobie,” the coach shouted, “lead them in the set for a minute.”

“Yes sir,” was Boobie’s reply.

Boobie is Harris’ nickname. It’s how most people around the Laney football program address him. But coach Baker also calls him by another name – special.

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“Some kids just have that ‘it’ factor,” Baker said. “When they come in, it changes everything. Your scheme, how you coach, everything. And that’s the kind of talent we see with Javaris. That’s what we’re looking to see from him. Leadership, big play ability, working hard and just setting the tone to lead the team in the right way.”

Now here’s the kicker: Harris hasn’t played a down for Laney’s varsity squad since the 2020 season, his freshman year. That’s because Harris was deemed ineligible by the Georgia High School Association during that year, citing “undue influence” as the reason why he ended up at Laney out of Silver Creek Middle School in the first place.

Laney had to forfeit wins against Glenn Hills, Josey and Butler – games Harris played in during the 2020 campaign – which resulted in the Wildcats missing the playoffs. Additionally, the young phenom was forced to spend his sophomore season on Laney’s JV squad.

He made the most of it, netting five kick returns for touchdowns, including a 100-yarder.

“Being on JV instead of varsity didn’t mean nothing. I still had to compete,” he said.

But a few days ago when Harris found himself on a visit to Miami after his 7-on-7 team competed there, Harris was quickly reminded why he was willing to push through the difficulties of the last two years.

“It was such a fun experience,” Harris said. “It’s a new experience for me. That was my first college visit, my first time going to see a college. It just reminded me that I have to push myself harder because it’s not easy to play on that level, but that’s where I want to be.”

As for Baker, he was more than excited to see Harris take the trip. He believes it’s exactly what his emerging star needed to prepare him to dominate upon his return to varsity competition.

“When those guys come back from visits like that, they see the next level, and they see what’s outside our program and city,” Baker said. “It does a great thing for them mentally, because it motivates them in ways you never could back at home. Things they see and hear within the program and from us, they get numb to that, but when they step out of this realm and see bigger things, a bigger level, a bigger picture, it just clicks for them.”

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Harris figures to be an immediate impact player in 2022 for a Laney squad that finished the 2021 campaign with a 6-5 mark and a trip to the Class AA playoffs. Laney fell to Swainsboro 48-6 in the first round. But it was Laney's first trip to the postseason since 2016, and its first winning season since posting an 8-3 mark in 2015. That's ample progress in Baker’s first season at the helm.

Three of the Wildcats’ five losses last year were by two scores or less. And in a 28-6 defeat to Region 4-AA runner up Westside, Laney trailed 7-6 deep into the third quarter before running out of gas —something Baker said happened way too often last year. That’s why Baker’s putting so much emphasis on strength and conditioning during this offseason, now with potentially one of the most electrifying players in the CSRA back on his roster.

“You know, I wasn’t here and I don’t know what all happened with regard to that ineligibility situation with Javaris,” Baker said. “But he did his time, paid the price, and however it went down or whoever’s fault it is, we’re just glad he’s back, ready to compete at the highest level, and we’re just trying to move on from that.”

Harris is more than ready to move on, and the Miami visit was a great first step to doing that.

“Last year was really tough and I was really upset about everything,” he said. “But my coaches, teammates, my mom, they were all just hyping me up, telling me to keep my head in the game and focus on getting better even on JV. All that situation did was just show me I can be a leader, and that trip just made things more fun for me again.”

This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Laney High School's Javaris Harris ready to put past behind