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Monday, June 9, 2014
Q&A: Virginia safety Anthony Harris

By Matt Fortuna

Anthony Harris was a bright spot during an otherwise down season for Virginia in 2013. The safety led the nation in interceptions (eight) and was named to a number of All-America teams.

Entering his senior season as a captain, Harris hopes to build off that performance and have it translate to much more team success. ESPN.com caught up with Harris recently to chat about his expectations.

Anthony Harris
Virginia S Anthony Harris not only led the nation in INTs, but was also among the Cavs' leading tacklers last season.
How do you go about improving on your play from last season?

Anthony Harris: With the season I had last year, eight interceptions, I think it's pretty tough to go out there and top that. But my goal this season is just to prepare a little bit more than what I did last season, which is preparing against opponents, working techniques, improving my teammates around me, and then my main focus is not going out there trying to get eight interceptions but just (to) eliminate the mistakes that I did make last year and not repeating some of those mistakes.

Leading the nation in interceptions is any defensive back's dream. What did that feel like?

AH: Well, each and every week I just tried to go out there and do whatever I could to get my team the opportunity to come out with the win at the end. And at the end of the season, to see my name up there at the top of the list with a lot of other guys and leading the way, it meant a lot to me. But I know the focus this year is just trying to perform and be an all-around good player and just improve my game not only in the interception category but being physical and attacking the line of scrimmage as well.

(Former Virginia safeties coach) Anthony Poindexter had talked about you learning from your time behind Rodney McLeod. How did Rodney rub off on you?

AH: Rodney was a very sound guy in everything he did. He was very big on communication; he communicated with the guys around him. His work ethic was second to none. He really worked on his technique. And he expanded his knowledge of the game to learn the offensive concepts and route combinations and putting together the down-and-distance to kind of come up with what the offense was going to do based off that. He was very aware of not only his position on the field, but his teammates' positions as well. So being able to play behind him for a year, (I) not only saw how he fit in with the defense, but everybody else, as well as where the offense wanted to attack him.

What's it like playing for Jon Tenuta? How much easier is it going into Year 2 with him?

AH: (Playing for) Coach Tenuta was a great experience right away. His knowledge of the game, he just brings a whole new aspect to being aggressive, and not only just with blitzing but just with different looks. To kind of show what throws them off with what we're doing. But going into Year 2 with him, it feels good when you know what play calls he's about to say on certain downs and distance and stuff like that. When you're starting to speak in his terminology you don't even have to second-guess or raise your hand and ask a question about what he may be talking about. But so far it's been great, and this spring I've been able to use what I learned from last year and help guys around me grow and understand what he's trying to do.

How much have you guys burned to get back on the field after the way last season played out?

AH: Yeah, guys are putting the season behind us. We're just striving, trying to get better each and every day and grow as a team. We're trying to just build that concept of not only just coming together as a team but staying together and working together, and we really believe if we can do all three of those then that will be our best chance for success.

How much have the personal accolades been dulled by the lack of team success?

AH: Yeah, the individual accolades are good but I'm very big on 'team player.' To go out there and make plays but to continue to come up short, it was very frustrating. But each week I went out there and tried to do a little bit more and tried to help my teammates understand a little bit more, and I felt like we got a little bit better as the season progressed, so we're just looking to take all the things that we learned throughout the season and use those positive things we've learned -- and not only positive, but negative as well -- and put it together and come up with a formula to be successful.

Do you feel different since you were named a captain this spring? Do you do change anything, or did you always look at yourself as a leader?

AH: Yeah, I've always prided myself as a leader. I just kind of passed along (knowledge) as I went. But to be named a captain this year, it means a lot, not only to me but I think the guys around me. Not so much wearing a "C" on your chest, but guys just having that person who they could definitely say is a guy who could lead, and just kind of have that image or a name as far as, "These are the guys we can look toward and embody what we feel this team needs to be like or set a great example for the team." So I think it's a great opportunity for me to have more (responsibility) on the team.

I've got to ask: Did you catch Mike London doing the "Cupid Shuffle?"

AH: (Laughs) Yeah, Coach London, he's a great guy, great personality. He was doing his women's camp and at the end he kind of did a little dance for them, and I found myself getting involved as well, not only just teaching them the different drills and stuff like that, but there were a few who weren't that familiar with the song, so just kind of teaching them the rhythm of that and steps to that, it was pretty fun.

Did you see that coming?

AH: Nah, nah I didn't see that coming. When he put it on I thought it was going to be a thing where the women just kind of enjoyed themselves, but when he started dancing it actually brought a little excitement to everybody around.

Does he do anything like that with you guys at practice?

AH: Yeah, he always finds a way to try to keep things light a little bit, so there's been times where he's done stuff like that in the past.