Darien Harris made his five years count at Michigan State – no doubt about that.
Harris was an integral part of the winningest class to ever play at Spartan Stadium, suiting up at linebacker and helping deliver a Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl and two Big Ten Championships. Oh yeah, and a College Football Playoff berth.
Now a member of the Ottawa Redblacks in the Canadian Football League, Harris will be switching a helmet for a microphone this weekend as he’ll call MSU’s Spring Game on Big Ten Network. Alongside Harris will be a familiar voice – play-by-play legend George Blaha.
Before calling Saturday’s game, we caught with Harris to talk about his illustrious five years as a Spartan, experiences in spring camp and how he’s feeling about getting in the booth.
Matt Sheehan: So how often do you think about your playing days at MSU, and when you do what games do you think about the most?
Darien Harris: “There was a lot to learn over my five years. We kind of related to last year’s team with the 2012 season (7-6 overall) in some kind of way … I think back to that year and how it kind of propelled us to the next year where we obviously won the Rose Bowl, the Cotton Bowl the year after that and then the Big Ten Championship and made playoffs.
But if I had to take it back to any game – everybody loves talking about that Michigan game and Jalen Watts-Jackson play. In terms of my favorite game, it was the Big Ten Championship Game in 2015. That solidified another ring for us and gave us another trophy and propelled us to the College Football Playoffs … I think something like seven teams have played in the College Football Playoff, so that’s special.”
MS: Kind of touching on that, you played in a Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, College Football Playoff, two Big Ten Championship Games, that crazy game against Michigan. How quick were you able to grasp how insane that is to have in a career? For a lot of players just to be in one of those is incredible.
DH: “Yeah you reminisce all the time with those guys and I talk to them on a daily basis … as a senior class to win in every Big Ten stadium is a stat that speaks volumes to me. But like you said, you have all these games like the Rose Bowl, beating No. 1-ranked Ohio State who was a surefire for the national championship game, the Cotton Bowl win when we were down 20 in the fourth quarter and beating Michigan with no time on the clock and beating Iowa on the last drive – as a senior class that was special, but it wasn’t surprising to us.
We came in as a class, and you could tell we were cut from a different cloth. We came together and I like to call us the closest class in terms of camaraderie to ever walk through those doors.”
MS: I’m also looking at your stats here, and you had a ton of big games and clutch moments. So I’m going to have you brag about yourself here – what was your best individual performance you had at Michigan State?
DH: “I would have to say the last play of the Rose Bowl. Me and Kyler had such a good relationship throughout our time together, and our preparation for that week culminated into that last play. It was just a really special moment. And I was so happy for Kyler to get all the headlines he got, because he really deserved it with his hard work he put in as a walk-on.
That Iowa game in 2015 was also one of the best games I’ve felt I ever played … it was a special game for me too because I lost my great grandma a few weeks prior, so that was a special moment for me and my family.”
MS: Moving on to the spring game here, what did you look to get out of these games as a player?
DH: “I looked at it as a fun game – really, the whole spring was fun. You’re just out there just playing football and doing what you love, but obviously the competition is there too with the scrimmages.
I just also enjoyed being there in game speed. It was fun playing in front of the best fans in the nation, and it’s also for bragging rights. You’re playing for steak and potatoes (for the winners) and hot dogs (for the losers).”
MS: During spring and summer practices, there would obviously be some position battles going on. Would tensions ever get high, and when would they get high? Early on in spring, or later in the summer?
DH: “Player to player, it was more high in the spring because it was more true competition with offense vs. defense. As you got closer to the fall camp we started coming together even though we would still scrimmage, but at the end of the day you go out there as one unit and play against someone in another color. And by then you were tired of hitting each other anyway.”
MS: Moving on to Saturday, that’s awesome you’ll be involved during the game. Who came to who to set this all up?
DH: “I was talking to Ben Phlegar (MSU football SID) about the idea and it was just going to be a matter of the Big Ten Network needing someone to do it, and fortunately I was the guy. And with everything going on in the program, I think they needed a couple guys to go out there and shine some light on the program and also get the point across this isn’t a standard at Michigan State. This is a serious manner and being handled the only way possible. It’s frustrating, especially for the fan base. But at the end of the day we will get back to the winning culture.”
MS: Would you get nervous before games, and do you think you’ll get nervous before going on air on the Big Ten Network?
DH: “No, I really didn’t actually. Before games I never really got nervous – it was just a matter of going out there and playing and it will be the same way with this. I know George (Blaha) really well and talked to him after every game.
I’m preparing for this kind of like a game. I watched the tape on Kirk Cousins back when he did it. I’ll do it just like how I do everything else – just going out there and doing it to the best of my ability. Nothing ever really got to me. It was just excitement for the opportunity.
But I interned with the Big Ten Network, doing some color for baseball in the past. So that was like the practice, and this is the game time coming up right here.”
MS: So do you have a catch phrase yet for a touchdown, or are you leaving that to George?
DH: “Ha, no I’m going to leave that to George. He’s a legend and an inspiration. We have a really good relationship and that helps a lot that I’m not meeting him for the first time tomorrow.”