Sept. 22, 2007
By Jim Wrobel
Special to GoHolyCross.com
When you hear descriptions of Holy Cross wide receiver Thomas Harrison, words like "clutch", "play maker" and "winning attitude" always seem to be mentioned. And if you have seen Harrison play you will understand why those words describe him so well.
"Thomas is one of those players who has a knack for making big catches," said head coach Tom Gilmore. "When we put the ball up in Thomas' area, he is going to come down with it most of the time. As an outside wide receiver, he is our big play guy in that he catches a lot of long balls for us. He also makes a lot of clutch catches with defenders right in his face."
If catching a game-changing pass is what helps the team win, then Thomas wants to be that kind of player. "I just plan on catching whatever they throw to me and making the big plays that need to be made," said Harrison. "The coaches here always say, `Big time players make big time plays in big time games.' I always wanted to be that guy and I'm always striving to be that guy."
Harrison already has had his share of "big time" catches, including in the season-opener against UMass to cut the Minutemen's lead to seven in the fourth quarter. "I still do not know how he made that touchdown catch at UMass," said Gilmore. "There were two UMass guys all over him and he made the catch right inside the pylon. That was a big play."
Right from the start as a Crusader you could tell that Harrison was going to have the ability to make key catches. As a freshman against Georgetown, he caught a fourth quarter 36-yard touchdown pass to send the game into overtime as Holy Cross ended up winning the contest. For that performance he was named the Patriot League Rookie of the Week. That success has continued and as a junior he earned second team All-Patriot League accolades, as he finished the season ranked third in the Patriot League in receptions (46) and fourth in receiving yards (569). He continued to show why he is a big-game player last week against Harvard, catching a game-winning 40-yard touchdown pass with just 19 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
A native of Wilmington, N.C., Harrison has adjusted to the move to Worcester. "It was hard at first," said Harrison. "I missed my family and friends. And of course it is cold up here. But I am very happy I chose this school."
In the eighth grade, Harrison started playing organized football, but before that he had always played competitively around his neighborhood with the kids who lived there. Although his first sports love was basketball as a kid, it was not until about the 10th grade that he started thinking about playing college football.
When it was time to choose colleges, Holy Cross was the only Division I school to see his incredible potential, which has paid off for both the school and Harrison. But football was not the only reason why Harrison chose to make the trip up to Worcester for school. "I chose Holy Cross because it seemed like a great fit for me," said Harrison. "It was a place with high academic standings, which my family and high school coaches liked, and also it was a Division I football opportunity on a team that was rebuilding and liked to throw the ball around a lot."
Family is very important to Harrison, and it is a major reason why he has been so successful. "My parents and my sister pushed me along throughout college," said Harrison. "My brother is the person in my family I'm closest to and look up to the most."
Coaches have also been major positive influences in his life. "My track and football coaches in high school pushed me the most in athletics and made me believe in myself," said Harrison. "Coach Gilmore, coach Pincince and the whole Holy Cross football program have made me tougher than I ever imagined I would be. They taught me that I had to work hard to be the player I want to be, and that achieving greatness is never easy."
Harrison has taken the advice of his coaches and it has made him a better all-around player. "Being physical in the run game is one thing they harped on early in my career," said Harrison. "When I first came here, I was not in love with the contact of football. I just wanted to catch touchdowns. The coaches have shown me that blocking for the ball carrier is just as important as catching balls, and is a big part of helping us win games."
Harrison is very excited about the team's offense and just wants to contribute positively to the team. "I think we have all the pieces to take this program to a place it has not been in a while, and not only can we do it, but we actually will do it."
Holy Cross has taken steps to reaching Harrison's goal and its recent success has seen the team develop a winning attitude. "Our wins and losses in the past two years have taught us that we are capable of playing with any and everyone on our schedule, and also that we have to practice hard and always be on our game or else we can lose to anyone also," said Harrison. "Wins like Lehigh in 2005 and Lafayette in 2006 are memorable and gave us confidence, but losses like Colgate in 2006 kept us humble and hard working."
The Lehigh win that Harrison refers to was on October 8, 2005, on the road when the Mountain Hawks were ranked No. 10 in the nation and Holy Cross defeated them by three points in a driving rain storm. "That win was probably my most memorable sports moment," said Harrison. "It was like a monsoon on the field and the playing surface was terrible. It was very cold and the only thing that got us through that game was mental toughness and discipline. We were able to pull off the upset and I felt like we were sitting on the top of the world."
To get prepared for games Harrison has some pre-game routines. "I like to listen to hype music while I'm getting dressed, and then right before the coach speaks to us in the locker room before letting us hit the field, I like to close my eyes and try to calm my self down and increase my focus," said Harrison. "I also do not enter the end zone during our warm-up period."
A political science major, Harrison would like to continue playing football after graduation, as he will take a lot of life lessons from his experience at Holy Cross. "Besides the great education and opportunities it will provide me with after graduation, what I will mostly take from Holy Cross is the fact that moving this far from home helped greatly to make me the man that I am today."