While that is a sobering realization for the other 24 athletes involved, Harrell is simply happy to be playing and helping the team succeed after watching last year's edition of the Nittany Lions struggle from the sideline. Harrell missed all of 2004 with a neck injury, and this weekend's game is in many ways the end of a long, difficult road for him.
PSU still has an away game at Michigan State and a bowl remaining, but the last trip on the Beaver Stadium field will be especially special for Harrell.
“It's been great man, it's really been a big experience for me, having to sit out all last year,” Harrell said. “There was a time when I wasn't sure about playing football again.”
Luckily for Penn State, he was able to come back as good if not better than ever. So far this season, Harrell is second on the team in tackles with 68 and has picked off one pass as well. He never would have been able to do it without the tremendous fan support he received while recovering from his injury.
“A lot of positive things were going on in the off-season,” said Harrell, who hails from Euclid, Ohio. “A lot of encouraging letters from people, phone calls, all types of people that I never expected to hear from.”
Now Harrell wants to pay back all those who showed him support during his recovery, and what better way to do it than with a win over the Badgers and a chance to clinch the Big Ten with a victory at Michigan State two weeks later?
“It really helps us play a little bit harder, knowing that there's so many people behind us that are proud of what we're doing,” Harrell said. “… Our first goal has always been to win the Big Ten and make sure that we win all of our home games.”
“One thing you do notice on film is that once he gets outside on the perimeter, it's almost impossible to bring him down,” Harrell said of the 5-foot-10, 194-pounder.
Calhoun, who has received a fair amount of Heisman consideration this season, has run the ball 254 times and caught 36 passes, giving him the most touches of any running back in the nation.
“Once he gets to the outside edge, it's gonna be really hard to bring him down because he's one of the fastest guys we've faced,” Harrell said.
Harrell's presence as a hard-hitting safety who excels in run support will help Penn State against a Wisconsin team that likes to run the ball and run it hard.
“They want to try and out-physical everybody,” Harrell said of the Wisconsin offense. “They want to run at you, make sure you respect their size and what they can do up front. They've proven how effective they are. We just have to make sure we bring our aggression level really high and make sure we hit them hard first.”
While the outcome of the day will not be known until Saturday evening, one thing that is certain is the amount of emotion that will be on display down on the field come game time.
“I know that were all gonna be high on emotion,” Harrell said of himself and his fellow seniors. “It's a really big-time game for us. It means a lot. Everyone is gonna be making sure that we go out with a bang.”
Harrell and his teammates hope those emotions won't get in the way of their game plan and, ultimately, their goal of winning the Big Ten.
“We're gonna try and turn all of our emotion into good things this weekend,” he said.
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