Jalen Harrison was an all-state selection in baseball and football and a 1,000-point scorer on the basketball team at St. Anne’s-Belfield in Charlottesville.
Coming out of high school, he had his choice of routes to college athletics, but the diamond always held a special place in his heart. So, in 2013, as a sophomore at STAB, he committed to the Virginia baseball team.
“It was the love I have for baseball. I’ll always have it,” Harrison said. “But I’ve always known I love football, too.”
After appearing in 25 games over the past two seasons for the Virginia baseball team, Harrison is back on the gridiron. He surrendered his spot on the diamond and joined the football team as a walk on shortly before spring practice began. He has two years of eligibility remaining, and the 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior has been working out with the wide receivers.
“I just want to be able to help team any way I can, blocking, catching, special teams, whatever I have to do,” Harrison said. “I have two years and I’m going to give it my all.”
Harrison was a three-time all-state selection on the football team at STAB. He started at wide receiver and defensive back, and in 2015, he moved to quarterback and led the Saints to an Old Dominion Football Conference championship.
He said it didn’t take long this spring before he was reminded how physical football can be, but he knows getting back in game shape is a process.
“First practice, first play when I first got hit, it kind of wore off and I was like ‘I’m good, let’s do it.’” he said. “It’s just getting my feet back. Baseball can slow you down a little bit. Playing outfield, you don’t get to move around all game. In football, it’s every play, you’re moving. I’m going to work really hard to get my feet back and catch a lot of passes.”
Harrison got it on about 10 plays in last weekend’s spring game, all of which were running plays, so he got to work on his blocking technique.
This spring, Harrison came into a situation where Hasise Dubois and Terrell Jana were the only relatively healthy veteran wide receivers on the roster. Dubois spent most of the spring with a cast on his left hand, Jana was recovering from a knee injury he suffered in December before the Belk Bowl and Joe Reed missed the entire spring while rehabbing an injury.
That situation changed a bit this week with the additions of graduate transfer wide receivers Dejon Brissett from Richmond and Terrell Chatman from Arizona State. In three seasons at Richmond, Brissett (6-2, 195) caught 86 passes for 1,282 yards and nine touchdowns.
Coming out of high school, ESPN ranked Chatman (6-4, 195) as the No. 30 wide receiver prospect in the nation, but in 13 career appearances for the Sun Devils, he caught just three passes.
Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said this spring that he wouldn’t consider adding a graduate transfer unless he believed they could start. That suggests the passing game could look very different than expected this fall.
Dubois (6-3, 215) is a big-bodied senior who makes up for what he lacks in speed with reliable hands. He should still see plenty of snaps, but playing time for Reed, Jana, sophomore Ugo Obasi and freshman Dorien Goddard may now come down to a competition this fall against the graduate transfers.
Brissett’s route running and explosiveness even give the coaching staff the option to go big in the slot, where sophomore Tavares Kelly is currently penciled in as Olamide Zaccheaus’ replacement.
With so much experience joining a wide receivers’ room bursting at the seams with raw talent, Harrison knows he has a steep hill to climb to find playing time. But he’s OK with that.
“I’m going to work hard this summer and try to make a name for myself,” he said.