When he was getting acclimated in 2017 as a LSU football freshman, former Plaquemine High standout Todd Harris Jr. leaned on then-fourth-year junior safety John Battle for advice and answers.
“I had John Battle to take me under his wing, teach me the game a little bit,” Harris said. “I’m trying to do the same thing for them and make sure they’ll be ready to play when I leave.”
It’s part of the cycle that helps foster a tight-knit bond that’s resulted in LSU maintaining its ‘DBU’ moniker, the veterans passing on knowledge to the newbies.
When the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Harris decided to return for as a fifth-year senior, he realized his contributions could be more far reaching than anything he could provide to this year’s LSU team which opens the season Sept. 4 at UCLA.
When he speaks, it is as the most experienced player in LSU’s secondary. He’s played in 37 career games despite missing the majority of the 2019 season with an injury when the Tigers went 15-0 and captured the national championship.
LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron has praised the development of the safety position, a group that struggled last season. as a source of strength that includes the return of Harris’ experience and leadership.
Junior Jay Ward is the team’s scheduled starter this season at safety after making the switch from cornerback in the spring. Freshman transfer Major Burns played in six games at Georgia last season and the Tigers are also counting on contributions from highly touted freshmen Sage Ryan and Derrick Davis Jr., two of the top three safeties in the nation last season.
“The role I’ve taken on is pretty much to get those guys ready as soon as possible,” Harris said.
Harris acknowledged the first major injury of his career has proven to be a bigger obstacle than first imagined.
A year after playing opposite Jim Thorpe award winner Grant Delpit, Harris was two games into his new role as a starter at safety in 2019 when he suffered a knee injury in the first half of a 65-14 home victory over Northwestern State. He was sidelined for the remainder of the season.
But while LSU forged on to a national championship, he remained engaged with teammates on the sideline and was on hand in the Superdome for the Tigers crowning achievement in a 42-25 victory over Clemson.
His rehabilitation process was slowed by a campus-wide shut down during the COVID-19 shutdown, forcing him to rehab on his own.
“I kind of battled with it, my confidence through the whole season and toward the end of the (2020) season I was like, it is what it is. I’m going to have to play with it like this,” Harris said. “Once I started having that mindset a lot of those negative thoughts went away. I just went out and played without thinking about it.”
What was hard to ignore, though, was the season-long struggles of an LSU defense that statistically proved to be the worst in school history. The Tigers allowed 35 points a game, getting burned for 323 of 492 total yards through the air, which resulted in the hiring of defensive coordinator Daronte Jones.
“We all know that last season the defense didn’t play that good,” Harris said. “With coach Jones coming in, he brought in a lot of NFL schemes. I feel like the defense this year is way better. It’s simple. It’s easy. Guys can relate to it easier. We can play fast; we can make plays. We’re getting a lot of different guys involved with different things and they can do different roles. I feel like this defense will be a big impact for the team.”
Harris started in six of LSU’s 10 games a year ago and made 30 tackles – the second highest returning total among defensive backs – to go with a pair of interceptions in wins over Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.
The scar on his right knee from ACL surgery wasn’t far from his mind and added the mental hurdle he seemingly tried to climb through the season, Harris said.
“I’m not going to lie, having a new surgery is different,” he said. “I feel like I’ve worked my way back up to that level. I wouldn’t say I’m that same guy before injury. I’m still capable of doing those things. It takes more determination. I always think about that knee surgery in back of my head.”
Harris followed a growing trend among draft-eligible junior players on the team last season to return for a final season. He wants to add to a career that’s included 68 tackles and three interceptions, but further build on a championship legacy that would include being in a playing role should the Tigers get back to the pinnacle of college football.
“My journey has been long, longer than expected,” he said. “Everything is God’s timing. If that’s his plan, I’m going to stick to it. The end goal for me is to win another championship. I was hurt that (2019) season, so I didn’t really play that much. I want to contribute and actually play in a championship with my new teammates. My journey has been long, so it will hopefully all be worth it.”