- Garry Paskwietz, Publisher, WeAreSC.com
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There aren't too many times when a person becomes recognizable by a single nickname; in USC lore there are names such as "Batman" Richard Wood or "Prince" Hal Bedsole. Spend any time around the 2011 USC team and if you hear the word "Juicy" you know there is only one player they are talking about: senior defensive tackle DaJohn Harris.
It is a nickname that was attached to Harris early in his career at Troy, and it has certainly stuck with him.
"Sedrick Ellis gave me the nickname when I first came in," Harris said. "He said I reminded him of one of the cartoon characters off 'The PJs.' "
"We looked it up and I didn't look like him but the name stuck and now everybody just calls me that. I thought it was just my teammates, but I'm noticing now that it's more universal. I would prefer it if people just said my real name, but when people say 'Juice' I just go with it. It just is what it is."
Harris is a versatile player who came to USC from Serra HS in Gardena. During his career he has seen playing time at both nose guard and the three-technique defensive tackle spot. With that ability to contribute at two positions, and with 12 career starts under his belt, Harris becomes a critical cog in the Trojans' D-line heading into the season.
With Christian Tupou coming off knee surgery, Armond Armstead still not being cleared by the medical staff and George Uko being an inexperienced redshirt freshman, Harris is the most consistent and dependable option in the middle of the line.
"It gives us great flexibility with Juicy being able to play both three-technique and nose," Trojans defensive line coach Ed Orgeron said. "If we get Armond back it would allow us to move DaJohn around in a three-man rotation, if we get George coming along it would give us a four-man rotation."
For Harris, it's a simple switch going back and forth between the positions -- easier because he is a veteran who has been in the Trojans program for five years.
"The big difference between the two spots is that at nose guard you mainly get double-teamed, while at three-technique it's more of a single block so you can get a better pass rush," he said. "It doesn't matter to me where I play, I just want to play and do what's best for the team to help us win."
In his second year of coaching Harris, Orgeron has come to appreciate the skills the big man brings to the table.
"The thing I like about Juicy is his movement skills, great flexibility," Orgeron said. "He has the quickest twitch among the inside guys. He has good hip flexibility, too. He came into camp weighing about 298 pounds. That's the best condition he's been in. He's a very smart player, he catches on, he understands things. We expect he could be an every-down player this year."
For Harris, a public policy and planning major, it's a chance to finish his USC career on a high note while learning from the fiery and intense coach.
"We have more of a rotation this year, more guys who can play," Harris said. "I just feel like we're working hard. We've been with Coach O for a year now and we have a better knowledge of what he's expecting from us. I think that's going to allow us to play at a higher level. Coach Orgeron teaches me everything I need to know to be great."
With experience also comes wisdom, and Harris has learned some key lessons along the way in terms of preparing to play the game at the college level.
"The one thing I learned the most over the years is to take care of your body, always," said Harris. "Your body is your temple. You've got to do everything you can to be healthy and ready to go."
Early in his career there was a perception Harris wasn't the most motivated player on the field, that his work ethic wasn't as strong as the other players. Then a few years ago he was diagnosed with sleep apnea, a condition that affected his breathing at night and prevented him from getting the proper rest he needed. He was fitted with a C-PAP sleeping device, which he said helped, but he later had his tonsils removed, which cleared his breathing pathway and allowed him to sleep better.
"I'm doing a lot better," Harris said. "I don't use the sleep machine anymore. Before I had the surgery I would always get tired, I couldn't sit through a meeting, I couldn't get through a class without falling asleep. Now I'm more aware and capable to do more things without having to take a nap every few hours."
"We got a lot of Serra guys now," Harris said. "Obviously Robert had a big year last year, I played last year, and now we have George and Marqise coming in. I feel like we're starting a little Serra tradition here."
When it comes to tradition, one of the main ones Trojans fans would like to see continued is the fine D-line play with Coach Orgeron. For that to happen in 2011, it will be important for DaJohn "Juicy" Harris to be right in the middle of the action.
Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trojans DT DaJohn Harris takes his nickname lightly, but his leadership role seriously for USC, writes Garry Paskwietz