NC State’s football program had an award in the early 2000s for offensive lineman who could stand up a defender and drive him back five yards or more. It was called the Raleigh Rails, and it was commonplace for lineman to collect the honor during games.
But offensive guard and center Leroy Harris was so powerful when he played on NC State’s offensive line from 2003-06, the coaches had to invent a new statistic called “the round trip.” In a 2004 game against Wake Forest, Harris blocked his defender in a full circle and the new stat was born.
“It was when you lock onto a guy and drive him back more than 15 yards,” Harris says, laughing. “They called it putting him on the railroad track.”
The move was a result of Harris’ aggressive play, something he learned playing as a defensive lineman in high school. But when the Wolfpack got a hold of him, they switched him to offense and couldn’t remove the love of the pursuit from Harris’ mindset.
“I got a chance to pull a lot and run and hit people,” Harris says. “It’s not about sitting back and waiting until the guy comes to you. The same mentality from defense can be applied to the offensive line.”
That aggressive mindset took Harris to the NFL. He was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He’s spent the last five seasons blocking for one of the best running backs in the game, Chris Johnson. And in 2011, Harris started for the Titans in every game of the regular season, a first for him.
But 2012 threw a wrinkle in veteran Harris’ journey. On the Titans’ opening drive in their Oct. 28 game against the Indianapolis Colts, Harris partially tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Harris’ season was over, and the Titans placed him on injured reserve. But, he says, IR does not mean a player is on vacation. He goes to the facilities to work every day. Instead of running drills on the field, he spends four hours receiving treatment and then hitting the weight room to work on maintaining his upper body strength. Everything he does is aimed at making him strong to come back in 2013.
Harris says the key for a veteran who has been injured is to stay strong mentally. He says veterans realize that everybody wants to play, including the guys behind them, so that motivates players to come back from injury as fast as possible. But a player can’t let fear and worry build up.
“You’re kind of scared to get out of the huddle because you don’t know who’s coming in next,” Harris says. “You don’t know who that man is who is coming behind you. But the key is that you don’t let it overwhelm you. As you get older, you get a chance to understand that.”