- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Back in his hometown for his final college game, Temple’s Dominique Harris chuckled at the thought of playing tour guide this week.

“I come down here to do sightseeing just like everybody else,” Harris said.

It’s about the only time he isn’t leading the way for the Owls.

Harris is a long shot on a long shot, a barely recruited high school player who turned into the locker room fulcrum of Temple’s remarkable football turnaround. Tuesday afternoon, he’ll make his 44th career start as the Owls (9-3) face UCLA (6-6) in the EagleBank Bowl at RFK Stadium.

Temple no doubt will appreciate the experience of playing in its first bowl since 1979. Its coaches will perhaps savor just as much a final game with a player with perspective and a significant impact on the program.

Sure, he was a third-team all-conference pick at strong safety, so his on-field work is significant.

But he’s also the coach off the field. The guy who makes sure his teammates know where they have to go, what has to get accomplished in practice and how to conduct themselves at team functions.

“We had to push him to speak, but people listen when he does speak,” Temple coach Al Golden said. “He has such poise and maturity. I’ve said it a million times this year that I hope my son grows up to be like Dom Harris.”

No one could have fathomed the connection between the two - Harris the H.D. Woodson High School graduate, Golden the rising coaching star - just five years ago. Golden was still the defensive coordinator at Virginia. And Harris didn’t have much sorting to do with his college offers.

There was Temple, and there was Winston-Salem State. And that was it.

“My coaches did the best they could,” Harris said. “Temple was the only D-I school that offered me. I sat down with my parents, and they encouraged me to go D-I instead of something lower than that. To my surprise, it has worked out. They knew what they were talking about.”

The program he entered, though, was nothing like what the Owls are today. There was lots of losing, plenty of humiliation and minimal order. It was Division I but in name only.

Harris was part of a 15-man class when he signed with Temple in 2005. Only he and left tackle Devin Tyler remain.

The rest of the class quickly disintegrated, both before Golden’s hire and immediately afterward. Harris, who had yet to play a down, remained eager to be part of the turnaround.

“To have someone like him who could have easily had mistrust, who could have had some ambivalence about the new coach or some disenchantment about Temple University football, for him to buy in at an early stage allowed him and his teammates to get to this point,” Golden said. “If they didn’t, it probably would have taken another cycle.”

Maybe that’s because it was tough to appreciate what had happened before. Including a redshirt season, Harris’ career started with 27 losses in 28 games.

“He was kind of in the fire before, and he had taken some blows, so he knew what to expect,” senior defensive tackle Andre Neblett said. “He’s a guy we look to, and we took him in like he was one of ours.”

Harris never disappointed. He graduated in the spring and is now working on a master’s degree. And he was a finalist for the Wuerffel Trophy, which honors the college football player who best combines community service with athletic and academic achievement.

And he turned out to be an on-field cornerstone, starting for much of his redshirt freshman season and never relinquishing the job.

Regardless of the outcome, Temple’s bowl trip shows how far it has come competitively. And it was made possible by the steps guys like Harris made throughout their careers to make sure things went well off the field.

“Coach Golden always preached to us that we always had the talent, but we needed the talent to make the right decisions, to make the right choices to perform like a champion,” Harris said. “Coach always told us, but we had to find out ourselves.”

Harris, it turned out, was the right guy to make sure the Owls did.

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