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Second Chance 

by Howie Stalwick & r & Jerome Harrison was a three-sport star in high school. Put up better rushing numbers than Jackie Robinson at their junior college. Ran the ball superbly much of last season at Washington State. All that, and Harrison still can't get over the fact that when they were growing up in Kalamazoo, Mich., his two older sisters beat him in every game and sport imaginable.


"I couldn't beat them at nothin'," Harrison admits. "At the end of the night, when the street lights came on, I would go in the house and pout. Every night. Every night. I did my little push-ups and sit-ups and I would say, 'One day..."


Krystal and Kandice, be forewarned: Li'l brother is all grown up now. He's 5 feet, 10 inches and 200 pounds of speed, muscle and moves that can fake defenders out of their undergarments.


Just as importantly, Harrison says, he's back to being his omni-confident self. He flatly states that he's gunning for the WSU single-season rushing record, one year after getting punked in a rude introduction to big-time college football.


"I couldn't believe it at first, the speed of the game," Harrison says. "I was just like, 'This game is moving 110 miles per hour. I'm only movin' 60.'


"I was so overwhelmed. I was just in shock. It's something you always dream of, playing with the big boys on TV. Then when you get here and put your foot in the door it's like, 'Hmm.'


"It's like you're thrown in a whirlwind ... I wasn't doubting myself, but I was just like, 'These are grown men out here. They take this game a little serious.'"


Opponents are taking Harrison plenty serious after he averaged 172 rushing yards in his final three games last season. He finished the year with team highs of 900 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns.


That's mighty impressive for a guy who had just 11 carries for 36 yards and one score in the first three games and who didn't start until the last five games. Harrison made honorable mention All-Pacific-10 Conference with the help of a 247-yard, three-touchdown effort at UCLA, where he set a WSU record with 42 carries.


"He's got great peripheral vision," WSU head coach Bill Doba says. "He sees the cut-back, bounces back outside. It just takes a little crease about eight inches wide and he can turn his body and get through it and get those two or three extra yards. He doesn't get hit hard because he's elusive."


Harrison has always been hard to catch, whether he was running in football, gunning in basketball or running in track. The son of former Western Michigan running back sensation Jerome Persell (and mother Debbie, who was a high school All-American in basketball), Harrison ran for 2,338 yards and 31 touchdowns his senior year at Kalamazoo's Central High School. That's the alma mater of New York Yankees star Derek Jeter.


An honorable mention All-American in football, Harrison was a high-scoring guard in basketball ("I was a gunner"), and he ran on a 400-meter relay team that set a state meet record. He drew throngs of major college recruiters in football and basketball before settling on football at Eastern Michigan ... for one unhappy redshirt season.


"Too close to home," says Harrison, who was academically ineligible as a freshman. "I was spending too much time at home, not studying."


That led Harrison to Pasadena City College, where he worked in the equipment room to help pay for school (since Pasadena, like most California junior colleges, doesn't offer athletic scholarships). Consecutive 1,000-yard seasons -- Robinson had only one year as a four-sport standout at PCC -- attracted recruiters from such football heavyweights as Oklahoma, LSU, Georgia, Boise State, Utah and Colorado.


However, the affable Harrison says the friendly people at Washington State and the peace and quiet of Pullman quickly won him over.


"During the week, it's really quiet," says Harrison, an ethnic studies major. "It allows you to be a student. I really like that."


Harrison, who seemingly wears a smile 24/7, raves about his teammates ("I'm surrounded by great athletes"), running backs coach Kelly Skipper ("Great coach"), offensive line coach George Yarno ("My favorite coach"), his parents ("I'm blessed"), his siblings ("My three sisters are amazing") and his girlfriend of eight years, Shayla Brown ("We've gone out since the second week of high school").


"He's just a really good kid," Doba says. "He's a good leader. He's not afraid to stand up at a meeting and tell people what he thinks."


"I'm just in awe at how far he's come," says his mom Debbie. "We're just so proud."


His girlfriend recently graduated from Jackson (Miss.) State -- "She had a 3.4 GPA," Harrison boasts -- so she's moved to Pullman. Harrison hopes the couple is on the move again next year, because he wants to play in the NFL after topping 1,800 yards rushing this season and breaking Rueben Mayes' school record of 1,637 yards.


"I'm bigger, faster, stronger," Harrison says. "I'm reading blocks quicker, reading defenses a lot quicker."


As long as his sisters Krystal and Kandice aren't lined up on defense, he should do just fine.

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