Work ethic propels Harris

Craig Kuligowski: “He is a very, very good player right now and the reason is because he has been relentless in pushing himself every single day to be the best.”

Charles Harris wasn’t supposed to be working out.

Monday afternoon, as coach Gary Pinkel conducted his typical weekly press conference, Harris conducted his typical Monday auxiliary workout. Harris loosened the shoulders and ankles, flexed the hips and prepared his body for another grueling week on the football field.

Generally, players aren’t supposed to be lifting Monday afternoons. It’s a day to give their bodies a break and talk to some reporters.

Charles Harris doesn’t buy into all that.

“He’s in there lifting weights right now, and you’re not supposed to be lifting,” Pinkel said. “That’s the way he is.”

He’s been labeled a workhorse, a “beast” in the weight room. A “freak.”

After recording four and a half tackles for a loss in Saturday’s 27-20 win over Arkansas State, it’s hard to argue with these descriptions of the sophomore defensive end. Four and a half tackles for a loss doesn’t sound all that impressive, but look at the Missouri record books and that number may have a little more significance. That’s more single game TFL than Michael Sam. More than Kony Ealy, Aldon Smith, Sheldon Richardson and any defensive player in Missouri program history.

And yet, nobody in the Tigers locker room was even slightly surprised.

“I said it from the beginning,” Pinkel said. “People asked me, ‘Who’s the next guy?’ and that was a question around here. I brought his name up. It’s not surprising me (how well Harris is playing) at all.”

It’s a testament to the sophomore’s work ethic. There’s no such thing as downtime in Charles Harris’s daily routine. While his teammates take afternoon naps following a long day of classes and practice, Harris is grinding it out in the weight room, never settling for second place, always trying to step his game up another level.

His body may be sore, his legs tired, his shoulders fatigued, but Harris knows what he wants: to be the best.

Three years ago, Pinkel got word from assistant coach Andy Hill of a player on nobody’s radar — a 6-foot-4-inch, 215-pound lineman from Lincoln College Preparatory Academy in Kansas City, best known for his talent on the basketball court.

The senior’s football skills were “not that great,” according to Missouri defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski. But he had the physical intangibles, so the coaches gave the kid’s basketball highlight reel a look.

There was 18-year-old Charles Harris, donning a blue No. 41 Lincoln Prep jersey. He was tall and slim, but his explosiveness with and without the ball gave Hill enough reason to convince Pinkel to offer Harris a scholarship. Prior, he’d only been looked at by Missouri Western for football. Rivals had him ranked at two stars, while other recruiting sites like ESPN.com and 247 Sports didn’t even bother ranking Harris.

Regardless, a day before national signing day, Pinkel offered the overlooked recruit a scholarship.

“It was kind of scary,” Harris said. “It looked like a big challenge. I was thinking, ‘Do I really want to go here?’ It’s a huge jump from playing 3A football in high school.”

That first summer on campus, Harris worked out with the linebackers. But Harris wanted to play defensive line, and when Charles Harris wants something, he goes out and gets it.

He worked. And lifted. And didn’t stop when people said he could stop, and didn’t settle for any days off. Saturdays and Sundays weren’t relaxation days like the rest of his teammates. Instead, the fiery-eyed freshman would work on his pass rush moves, sometimes with teammates, sometimes alone.

One summer day in the early evening, Kuligowski came back to his office to grab a few things he had forgotten, and there was Harris, breathing hard with sweat dripping down his forehead and chest, walking out of the weight room in his cut-off shirt.

“What are you doing?” Kuligowski asked. “Working out?”

Harris stopped. “Yeah,” he replied nonchalantly.

His coaches and teammates speak highly of him. Kuligowski and Pinkel are astounded by his maturity and workhorse mentality. Harris is a rare breed.

“His work ethic is the best,” Kuligowski said. “He is a very, very good player right now, and the reason is because he has been relentless in pushing himself every single day to be the best. It’s not one day where you be the best. You don’t just show up here and be the best.

“He has an unbelievable work ethic and dedication every day since he’s been here that’s allowed him to be at the place he is now.”

Forty pounds and one program record later, Harris still isn’t where he wants to be. His bench press five-rep max is 350 pounds. He wants to get that higher. He had four and a half tackles last game, but Harris doesn’t really care about the numbers. He knows he can play better.

So to the weight room he goes, vying to be the defensive line leader on and off the field, never settling because Charles Harris doesn’t settle. He used to text teammate Rickey Hatley all the time, telling him to get his rear to the weight room to lift. Hatley wanted to chill.

“Let’s go man,” Harris would respond.

Now it’s the other way around. Hatley said his teammate has pushed him to work harder. Monday, it was Harris’ phone that buzzed first.

“Usually, he texts me, but I’m trying to beat him to it,” Hatley said. “I’m trying to make me look better on my end. I tell him, ‘You won’t outwork me.’”

Harris is just a sophomore and potentially has two more seasons after this to hone his skills in hopes of playing post-college. The work ethic is there, and Pinkel thinks Harris could be a great player, something he said he doesn’t say about a lot of people.

If you’re ever at the Missouri Athletic Training Complex, you may see the 255-pound lineman sweating in his black cut-off shirt, pumping iron in the weight room. Then he’ll go home and study. And wake up and do it all over again because he doesn’t settle.

Weighing 355 pounds isn’t enough. Having four and a half tackles for a loss isn’t enough. In his mind, there may be no ceiling.

The guy just loves winning.

“I think he’s got a chance to be an Academic All-American,” Kuligowski said. “And I think he’s got a chance to be an All-American on the football field someday too.”

Kuligowski paused.

“Knock on wood.”

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