AMES — Butterflies briefly hit Iowa State linebacker Jordan Harris during the spirit walk that preceded last week’s season-opening 31-7 win over Northern Iowa.
First start. First snaps. First game in an Iowa State uniform for the former Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College star who redshirted last season.
“Just realizing that, ‘Wow, I’m really about to play in this game,’” Harris recalled Wednesday as he continued to prepare for Saturday’s 3:45 p.m. Cy-Hawk clash with Iowa. “That’s the part that made me nervous.”
Harris then swiftly shifted into bee mode. The 6-0, 233-pound MIKE linebacker stung the Panthers with a team high-tying nine tackles in his long-awaited debut.
He played fast. He helped coach others. He hit hard — but not with as much force as he would like.
“I don’t think I’ve had a signature one yet,” Harris said. “I think I’m going to make those plays every other game, but I’ve got to get the big hit, the big one that I want.”
The message from Harris, his coaches, and his teammates is clear: The best is yet to come. Redshirting last season allowed him to get up to speed schematically. It also awakened a zest for knowledge that makes him look forward to each film session, steady gains in production, then yet more film as he develops an all-around game built for the long haul that looms in Big 12 play.
“I think he’s getting there,” Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads said of Harris, who was one of six defenders to start for the first time against the Panthers. “I think you saw the physical ability when he tackles that we saw on film and we’ve seen in training camp, we saw in spring ball. I think he was tentative at times. I think he was hesitant at times. I think he got a little tired as the game went along. I think as he gets some of that adrenaline flushed that goes along with playing that first game at this level, I think he’ll play faster and I think he’ll play more decisive as we go along and you’ll start to see even more.”
Same goes for all the newcomers, including nickel back Jay Jones, who tied Harris with nine stops, including two tackles for loss.
“I was excited because we went through a whole fall camp patiently waiting, excited to play,” free safety Kamari Cotton-Moya said when asked about the first-time starters’ performances. “I just can’t wait to play Iowa.”
Harris said the Hawkeyes appear fast on offense, while still showing their trademark prowess in the power game.
“They work up to the second level real quick,” Harris said. “Their technique’s sound. They have a pretty good O-line every year, so that’s the challenge for me this week.”
One of many Harris plans to meet this season. It’s practice, play, watch film and repeat. A constant loop designed to ignite incremental improvement — as well as those “big ones” he aims to deliver as the season rolls on.
“I was smiling a lot,” Harris said of his debut. “I was happy to finally be on the field. I can build off that by staying in the film room and not get complacent with one game. Just keep on working like I haven’t played a snap.”