BC would like to see a great Montel show

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / October 22, 2009

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The first time Montel Harris touched the ball last week against North Carolina State, he took a handoff from Boston College quarterback Dave Shinskie, dived into the line, and gained 1 yard.

The second time he touched the ball, he took a direct snap from center Matt Tennant in the Eagles’ Bazooka formation and sprinted 70 yards down the left sideline to the 2-yard line.

Both plays were indicators of the type of season the 5-foot-10-inch, 200-pound sophomore running back has been having.

In a 25-7 loss to Clemson, Harris carried the ball 12 times and gained 13 yards.

But in the 52-20 romp over North Carolina State, Harris set school records with 264 yards rushing and five touchdowns.

Which Harris - and which BC team - show up Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium is the question of the week.

“The biggest thing is focus,’’ said Harris. “We have to stay focused.’’

Harris has been focused since he arrived at BC two years ago as an unheralded freshman from Jacksonville, Fla. He had been interested in Florida State and Clemson, but they were not interested in him. So he committed early to Duke, then flipped when BC made a last-second push.

He showed signs of greatness last season, setting a BC freshman record by rushing for 900 yards. In seven games this season, he has almost matched that total with 807 yards, in addition to 10 touchdowns.

“We have always felt since he arrived here that he was a special back,’’ said BC coach Frank Spaziani. “He loves to play, he has the enthusiasm, he has the talent, and he has the work ethic.’’

All of those came into play last Saturday when Harris made some spectacular runs from the Bazooka (or Wildcat) formation, which allows him to improvise after taking the direct snap.

“With the Bazooka, most of the time you have to beat just one man,’’ said Harris. “It’s fun.’’

Unlike games against Clemson and Florida State, Harris has no special mission against Notre Dame. That he showed up at BC at all was literally a matter of inches.

He was only moderately recruited coming out of Trinity Christian High School in Jacksonville. Ball State showed an interest, as did Duke. Harris committed to Duke as a junior. BC came into the mix late but was concerned about his size, telling Harris it would offer him a scholarship if he was really 5-9 and 195 - his listed height and weight at the time.

Harris was measured on the spot, literally measured up, took an official visit to BC, and was offered a scholarship by then-coach Jeff Jagodzinski.

It proved to be a wise move, as Harris has emerged as the primary runner in a tandem with Josh Haden. Haden has an ankle injury that could limit him against Notre Dame, which should put more pressure on Harris to perform.

Whether it is with more Bazooka formations or a conventional setup remains to be seen. Just as unclear is which Harris will show up - the spectacular back who had 443 yards and seven touchdowns in home victories over Florida State and North Carolina State or the ho-hum back who gained a total of 56 yards in road losses to Clemson and Virginia Tech.

Harris says part of his success stems from a more unified front in the offensive line, which has slowly developed a comfort level. He has been the beneficiary, and he is grateful.

“I was thinking about taking those guys out to dinner on Thursday,’’ he said, “but I don’t know if I can afford it.’’

If the line provides the openings it did against North Carolina State, it will be a worthwhile investment.