DURHAM, N.C. – With three-year starter Daniel Jones declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft, Quentin Harris returns as the most experienced quarterback on the Duke football roster for 2019. Harris started two games in 2018 when Jones was injured and helped the Blue Devils to victories over Baylor and N.C. Central. Harris appeared in 12 games, completing 34-of-68 passes for 437 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception and added five rushing scores. In Duke’s Walk-On’s Independence Bowl victory over Temple, Harris passed for 17 yards, ran for 16 yards (with a TD) and caught a pass for 24 yards.
Duke Director of Broadcasting David Shumate recently sat down with Harris to look back at 2018 and ahead to 2019.
David Shumate: You’ve had a month or so to process the season. It was in many respects a wild year for you, starting the year as the backup to Daniel and then being thrust into the lineup as the starter against Baylor and N.C. Central. I know it’s hard to boil it all down so simply, but what are your impressions of the season?
Quentin Harris: Yeah, I thought it was a season of resilience for a lot of us. I definitely had to come into a certain role when Daniel went down early, but I think a lot of guys had to step into roles, probably quicker then they anticipated. You have Jack Wohlabaugh coming into the starting lineup (at center), when at the start of the year he didn’t even know if he was going to be eligible (after transferring from Ohio State).
You have a bunch of guys on defense that had to step in, like Leonard Johnson and a number of different guys in the secondary.
With all that in mind, I thought it was a great season of resilience for us, so many young guys stepped up and filled the shoes of some guys who had paved the way and we were able to continue fighting. We certainly faced some patches of adversity, but we persevered and put together a really successful season. And it was special to cap it off with a great bowl win.
DS: You talk about patches of adversity — on the sidelines against Wake Forest and then waking up the Sunday after, do you remember the emotions and what was going through your mind after that loss?
QH: It definitely came as a shock to a lot of us. We felt like we had a great week of preparation, and it really was like a kick in the gut a little bit and probably a little bit of a reality check. I don’t think we were content by any means, but it definitely surprised us and showed us how much work we had to do going into the bowl game. I think it motivated guys. Everybody wanted to right what went wrong and I think it showed in the effort we put together in the Walk-On's Independence Bowl.
DS: Sometimes in sports when you have a disappointing performance like that you want to move on to the next game as quickly as possible. Obviously after that game you were going to have some time off before the bowl game. In fact, you didn’t even know who you were going to play until the following Sunday. With all the injuries and everything you guys dealt with, in some ways was it good to have some time to reflect before moving on?
QH: Yeah, I think so. It gave us a chance to really sink into the tape and see what went wrong and see how we could correct things generally before we started applying a specific game plan. I thought that week allowed us some time for reflection and recovery. Then once we found out we were playing Temple, we were ready to go.
DS: If a game can encapsulate a season I would think Temple did. You guys get off to such a quick start on your opening drive with a touchdown and Temple responds with the big kick return, which leads to a score. Then Daniel goes out and it goes sideways for a little bit. You find yourselves down 20-7 in the first half. Did what you guys experience throughout the year prepare you somewhat for that moment?
QH: I think so. I mean that game meant a lot — guys certainly knew it was going to build our momentum heading into next season and into the offseason. But it was also a coronation of the team we had become throughout the year. You know, we never doubted ourselves in that game, even when we were down. Things weren’t going our way in the first half, but we knew we were going to come back in the second half calm and relaxed. We started to execute on the both sides of the ball and things just started clicking. And we never looked back.
DS: Daniel was obviously very good in that game, and you guys had what I would describe as a healthy rivalry in that quarterback room. There’s plenty of conversation right now regarding where he might go in the draft. You’ve been around him for a few years now — what are some of the things people don’t know about him that might surprise them?
QH: You know you hear a lot about quarterbacks, like that they’re the hardest workers on the team, but I think Daniel truly embodies that. He’s a guy who’s always ready to watch extra film, always ready to throw. Even I got sick of it sometimes, he wanted to throw every day, hundreds of balls. I would be like, “Hey, why don’t we give our arms a break?”
He’s definitely the hardest worker I know on the team. He was always ready to get extra work in and was really a leader by example, setting the right tone in the locker room, friendly to everybody and a guy anyone could talk to. Because of that, I think guys really respected him and wanted to play for and win for him.
DS: Let’s talk about you a little bit, taking over as the starter heading into the spring. You’ve played quite a bit so it’s not like it will be new for you to be on the field, but I would still think it’s a different mentality as you go into the offseason.
QH: Definitely. I think it’s a little different but I think having the experience in the past where I was the starter while Daniel was hurt, going through those reps in practice, I’ve learned the right way to prepare each week, studying how guys did it before me, like Thomas Sirk and Daniel. I think that allows me to believe in myself, know that I can do this and take this team where we want to go. That being said, we’re going to take it one week at a time. I’m very confident in the guys we have coming back.
DS: You talk about learning to prepare — does some of that come from your father? He played at Georgia, albeit at a different position, but you’ve been around football your whole life. A couple of cousins played at Miami, your grandfather and everybody it seems like has been involved in this sport.
QH: Yeah, I definitely come from a football background. Even from my earliest days, my dad was my coach all the way up until eighth grade, and looking back we actually ran a pretty advanced offense for that time period. But I think having him, and then my Aunt Shaun — we all watched football every weekend growing up. She went to the University of Florida, as you said my dad went to Georgia. My dad definitely pulls for the Bulldogs, but he’s not in your face about it. My aunt is very much Gators and she loved it because when I was growing up, Florida had that stretch where it won a couple of championships.
It was unique having my dad as a coach as well. We won a championship my sixth grade year and that was after a couple of year of getting close but not quite getting over the hump. Winning that with him was special. I’ll always remember that and cherish that.
DS: Coming out of high school you were characterized, or at least discussed, as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks. To this point in the offense you’ve been featured largely in the running game around the goal line and in short-yardage situations. I was struck by the fact that in your first career start at Baylor you come out and throwing it all over the place. How do you feel about being characterized as a dual-threat quarterback?
QH: I guess the title of a dual-threat quarterback is because I’m pretty fast, which certainly caught the attention of a lot of coaches. But it also comes I think from my stature — you know, they don’t traditionally think of a 6-0, 200-pound quarterback as a pocket passer. They automatically assume he has to be a dual-threat guy. He’s quick and the ability to run definitely accentuates that title.
I’ve always considered myself to be a pocket passer first. I’ve run if necessary and to extend a play, or if I see an opening or something like that, but my mindset has always been to pass first.
DS: A lot of attention is always on the quarterback position, but you’re not the only new piece this year. All the starting receivers and tight ends will depart the program – tell us about the new guys people are going to see next year.
QH: You’ve got Noah Gray, who I think is a very good and complete tight end. I thought he flashed at points this season, and even going back to his freshman campaign.
I think our running backs are ready to take off. You know Deon Jackson really broke out and came into his own this year. I think he’s going to be a great running and receiving threat for us this year. Obviously we still have Brittain Brown and Mataeo (Durant). Hopefully Marvin (Hubbard III) can get healthy as well.
The other piece is a lot of different receivers are going to step up. Last year, especially the last three-fourths of the season, I thought Damond Philyaw-Johnson had a great stretch of practices. We have a lot of guys who are ready to get into the action and show what they can do this year.
DS: The schedule just came out, but you’ve know your first opponent for a while. Nothing will focus your offseason work like facing what many perceive to be the premier program in college football in Alabama in your first game of the season. What will that be like for you?
QH: It’s going to be a great experience for us, obviously a tremendous atmosphere in Atlanta, and against a great opponent — a chance to prove ourselves and show what we’re made of and what we’re going to be about as a team this season.