James Harrison was a force during his days at Kent State and since then the Steelers menacing linebacker has exploded into one of the NFL's top defensive players.
That combination is why Kent State is honoring Harrison by inducting him into their Varsity "K" Hall of Fame.
Harrison moved into the starting lineup for the Golden Flash with three games remaining in the 1999 season and was a steady force for the defense, remaining in the starting lineup the next two seasons while earning the team's most outstanding defensive player in 2000 and 2001.
Harrison led the team in 2000 with 106 tackles, including 13 for a loss. In 2001 he was an All-MAC first team selection, recording 98 tackles and a conference leading 15 sacks.
"It's an honor whenever you get an award like that," said Harrison, who never imagined something like that happening when he first started playing college football. "I didn't look any further than getting the extra opportunity to play football that wasn't high school ball. You graduate (from high school) and move on. I was just looking at another opportunity to do something that I enjoy doing. Any accolades that came along with it were just icing on the cake."
Harrison credited former Kent State head coach Dean Pees with his development there, but it was Pees who credited Harrison with getting the school back on the map.
"I was starting a program where I needed to have guys doing things the right way, and I needed him to set a good example," Pees was once quoted as saying. "It was the same thing in football. I mean, the guy he was playing behind wasn't even close to as good as he was. He knew it. I knew it. He also knew I wasn't going to change. I wasn't going to play him until he gave me what he had.
"When he buys in, the sky's the limit."
And so far Harrison is proving that. The 2008 season was Harrison's best as a pro, winning the NFL defensive player of the year and making one of the biggest plays in Super Bowl XLIII with his 100-yard interception return for a touchdown right before halftime.
Not bad at all for a guy who started at a small Mid-American Conference school without a thought about making it to the NFL.
"I wasn't looking that far. I am on a year-to-year, day-to-day plan," said Harrison. "I went there because it gave me another opportunity to play football. It was great that I got to further my education."
And he is the poster child for proving that if you have talent, no matter where you play football you will be discovered.
"It really doesn't matter where you start," said Harrison. "If you have the ability to do it, it's going to be seen by somebody. There are 32 teams out there and they are looking everywhere for talent. It's an opportunity for anybody no matter what level you start at, you are able to play at this level."
While he hasn't had many opportunities to get back to Kent State he is looking forward to returning for the induction ceremony on Feb. 27 at Kent State Student Center Ballroom.
"I am definitely looking forward to going back there," said Harrison.
For tickets or more information call 330-672-0439.
About the Varsity "K" Hall of Fame
Established in 1979, the Kent State University Varsity "K" Athletics Hall of Fame honors men and women whose exceptional performance on the athletic fields and, in later years on other fields, merits special recognition from their alma mater. Each year's Varsity "K" Hall of Fame inductees, Distinguished Alumnus and Honorary Varsity "K" member are honored at a banquet during the basketball season. Hall of Fame members are permanently enshrined in the Varsity "K" Hall of Famelocated on the second floor of the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center.