NORMAN — Javon Harris sat for nearly a half-hour in the Switzer Center's Red Room. It reminded you of one of those ESPN “hot seat” segments, a player barraged with questions.
After being burned repeatedly in a 45-38 loss at Baylor, Harris didn't make excuses two days later. OU's free safety didn't deflect blame. When a new group of reporters trickled over to ask the same pointed questions, Harris accepted full responsibility.
And he has again this spring.
The difference is, Harris is looking forward to a fresh start, something defensive coordinator Mike Stoops gave all defensive players before spring practice began.
Last year has been well-documented. A team ranked No. 1 in preseason finished 10-3. Fans' two favorite targets were defensive coordinator Brent Venables and Harris.
Venables left to be Clemson's defensive coordinator, replaced by Stoops. Harris is preparing for his senior season.
Spring reports are that Harris has learned from his mistakes and is having a solid spring.
“Javon has done a good job,” Mike Stoops said. “At times (last year) we lost position on the football. We're all responsible for that.”
Stoops has moved Harris from free safety to strong safety. It would appear to be a better fit. A big hitter, Harris can defend more runs and more midrange passes.
“I think he's going to be great,” said Lawton MacArthur coach Brett Manning, who was the offensive coordinator when Harris played high school football there. “He's in the type of situation where some people would hang it up after something as tough as he went through. But he's not that way. He's only going to work harder. I think he'll surprise a lot of people.”
Last year was filled with Harris highlights. Too often he was the victim, the low point being the Baylor loss.
The TV broadcast showed Bob Stoops, Venables and defensive backs coach Willie Martinez all screaming at Harris on the sidelines. He was benched the final three games.
“This spring I've been more focused, coming in knowing I pretty much lost my spot after the Baylor game,” Harris said. “I have a chip on my shoulder.”
Entering Saturday's spring game, Harris is OU's starting strong safety. That might make some fans antsy. They remember Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin throwing for a career-high 479 yards. They remember Harris and Travis Lewis barking at each other after a busted assignment.
In that game, the Bears produced seven plays of 20 yards or more, four longer than 50 yards. And that doesn't include a play Harris where was beaten for what would have been a 79-yard touchdown that was negated by a holding penalty. It doesn't include a potential 85-yard score when Griffin overthrew his receiver.
“Javon has learned from that experience,” said free safety Tony Jefferson. “You can't fault the dude for being overaggressive. It's just (being) disciplined. He's working on using his eyes the right way. You appreciate somebody who is working hard to get better.
“He's always had (confidence). Ever since it happened, that's the good thing about him; he knows how to adjust to adversity. That's a good trait about Javon. It feels real good to have somebody next to you who can make plays. Regardless of what happened last year, he's working hard.”
It wasn't like Harris struggled all season. He was named the Nagurski national defensive player of the week for two clutch interceptions in a win over Florida State. He made eight starts, compiled 76 tackles.
“I think it was a little bit of complacency,” Harris said. “This year it's about consistency, playing strong, knowing at any time something can happen. This year I think I'll play it a little more safe. At safety you can't allow big plays. I've been watching those plays on film, correcting those mistakes.”
Harris' problems often stemmed from getting turned around watching the quarterback. By the time he adjusted, the receiver was behind him, the cardinal sin for a safety.
So what was the biggest lesson learned?
“The eyes, knowing where I need to look ... and being more fluid with my hips, stuff like that,” Harris said. “If I do those things right I can prevent big plays.”
Six months after losing his starting job, Harris has a new starting job.
“It shows a lot about Javon and his character to be able to do that,” said wide receiver Kenny Stills. “We all (already) knew that. We pat him on the back for it because I don't think a lot of guys would be able to do that.”
Harris was a two-way starter his final three seasons at Lawton Mac. As a sophomore, he didn't have the speed to achieve his goal of becoming a Division I player. Coaches told him to run track. He ran and ran and ran some more.
“He took that very seriously,” Manning said. “It was very noticeable his senior year that he was a lot faster, had the kind of speed a school like OU would sign him. That shows the kind of perseverance he has. I expect him to have a good year.”
All accounts are Harris learned from his roller coaster season.
“He's doing a nice job,” said coach Bob Stoops. “He's making good improvement, being in better position, making more plays. Hopefully that will continue to happen.”
No player relishes the opportunity to seize Mike Stoops' fresh start proclamation more than Harris.
“I need to be the player that steps up, knowing I have a lot of doubt on me,” Harris said. “I just need to continue to play the way I know I can play, continue to work hard.
“With the Baylor thing, it's all character with me. One thing I always do is come back and dominate with what I messed up on.”