Harrell said he hasn't given much thought lately to the injury that forced him to sit out the entire 2004 season.
“Early on, in [preseason] football camp, that was probably the last time I had any reservations about hitting people,” he said. “I knew the doctors did a great job of making sure that I took all the precautions and made sure I took the necessary time to get everything healed. By the time camp started, I really felt good about my body. I had a chance to look over the MRIs and X-rays with the doctors, and by then I was really comfortable that the hits weren't going to shatter anything or break anything or crack anything loose. By the first game, I was ready to go.”
Harrell has made it all the way back after being hurt last year during the first week of spring practice. The injury forced him to take an extended leave of absence. He rehabbed with the help of a portable device that attached to his neck and stimulated bone growth, but he didn't return to practice until earlier this year.
Since getting back on the field, Harrell has looked a lot like his old self. Heading into this week's game against Northwestern, a game in which he and the rest of the Penn State secondary figure to get their toughest test of the season, the Euclid, Ohio, native has 19 tackles to rank third on the team and has added an interception and two pass break-ups.
Harrell insists he's a better player than he was before his injury. Watching games as a spectator last season, he developed an understanding of “what other teams are trying to do to us.”
In addition, he emphasized his weight-training regimen and packed on 10 more pounds of muscle, bringing his weight up to 215 pounds. That gives him a lot of ordinance to drop on opposing ball carriers, and it has also enhanced his strength, meaning that he can wrap people up rather than having to bowl them over on contact.
The injury, he said, hasn't affected his demeanor. The only thing it changed was his outlook. And that was a change for the better.
“I think right now I definitely value the game a lot more,” Harrell said. “Every time I'm out there, I'm always really conscious of what I'm doing and taking advantage of being able to play football again. You see on TV there are a lot of injuries and people don't get a second chance to play this game. Every game, I get a little more aggressive, I feel a little more comfortable. I take a lot more pride in what I'm doing.”