Preston Harris is an avid Baltimore Ravens fan, in large part because he admires former All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis.
Among the reasons he has developed what he describes as a “tremendous amount of respect” for Lewis is that the future Hall of Famer managed to recover from the horrific events that surfaced following a Super Bowl 34 party in Atlanta in January 2000.
After a fight broke out between Lewis, two companions, and several others, resulting in the stabbing deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar, Lewis and his acquaintances, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, were questioned by Atlanta police. Consequently, the men were indicted on murder and aggravated-assault charges 11 days later.
Although Lewis’ misleading statements to police the morning of the killings ultimately resulted in him being given 12 months probabtion, his faith never wavered and it showed the following year when he was named Super Bowl MVP.
“He inspired me that no matter adversity, you can overcome over anything if you put your mind to it,” Harris said of Lewis, who helped propel the Ravens to a Super Bowl 47 win last year before calling it a career after 16 NFL seasons. “Most of the time, when people go through that type of thing, they quit. But he just kept going. Like he said, he’s a ‘freightrain.’ He just kept going.”
A senior who recently wrapped up what was a stellar four-year career at Kingsbury High, Harris doesn’t shy away from the notion that he used Lewis’ story as a model of sorts, particularly pertaining to the challenges he endured as a prep football player.
For starters, the 17-year-old Harris recalls how he steadfastly played through his entire junior campaign for the Falcons while battling a torn right meniscus he suffered during a 7-on-7 camp in North Carolina weeks before the start of the season. As the 6-foot, 205-pound Harris tells it, he didn’t consider having what would have been a season-ending surgery, given he sensed it would resulted in a devastating loss for Kingsbury’s defensive unit.
“I knew if I had the surgery, I’d missed the whole season,” Harris, who played mostly receiver and tight end, said. “I didn’t want to let my team down. An (Memphis City Schools) trainer who covered the entire North region told me to do a couple of knee exercises to get stronger, to ice it, maybe take a couple of days off from practice.”
Fortunately for Harris, he didn’t suffer any additional damage to his knee, although he was sidelined one game that year. It wasn’t until weeks after the 2012 season, however, that he underwent surgery. Even before the offseason procedure, his skills as the centerpiece of Kingsbury’s defense didn’t go unnoticed.
Harris’ presence in his what was his first 7-on-7 camp earned him letter of interests from a host of colleges, most notably Princeton, Penn, Middle Tennessee State, Mississippi Valley State, and Louisiana Tech, among others. While he isn’t expected to sign a National Letter of Intent on Wednesday — the first official day prospects are allowed to make official commitments — he said he will likely announce his college decision either in late February or early March.
Even if Harris, who also starred one season in Rugby for Kingsbury, isn’t offered an athletic scholarship, he will have his favorable academics on which to fall back. That’s because he already has academic scholarship offers the University of Tennessee, MTSU, and MVSU and is on pace to graduate in the top 10 percent of a class that is comprised of more 300 students. He boasts an overall grade point average of 4.0.
“To me, if you don’t have (good) academics, you don’t have nothing,” said Harris, who is expected to graduate No. 14 in his class and is leaning toward enrolling at MTSU. “This year, we didn’t have anybody to miss a game because of acamedics.”
Harris’ mother, Jantish Powell Ross, relishes the fact that her son has always devoted more attention to academics than athletics, although he has been playing competitive football for the past 13 years.
“While being an athlete from his adolecent years, he’s always maintained his GPA,” Ross said. “And it’s just something that comes natural. It seemed as if he doesn’t study hard. When you look at other kids in society, I mean, he’s not in any gangs or getting in trouble. I want him to achieve every endeavor he plans to do because life is hard. Nothing in life is given to you.”
Which, of course, is the among the reasons Harris is so fond of how Lewis’ story played out during the course of his NFL Hall of Fame career. As he tells it, that Lewis persereved amid his well-publicized troubles 14 years ago is a pivotal lesson about which he embraced, particularly while he played with an injured knee two years ago.
“I felt like I did all I could to help make our team successul,” said Harris, who wore No. 28 in honor of his father, former Austin Peay State standout Preston Harris, Sr.
As a result, he’ll be rewared for his contributions in the coming weeks.