Jason Harrison began playing football like most Jersey City kids, running under passes on the streets, in Harrison’s case, his neighborhood of Seidler Street in Jersey City’s Bergen-Lafayette section.
“I just loved playing the game,” Harrison said.
His love for the game never dipped. Harrison soon joined the Jersey City Recreation program, but he was playing different positions.
“I wasn’t good right away,” Harrison said. “So I played nose tackle and defensive end.”
By the time Harrison enrolled at Lincoln High School, the head football coach already noticed him – but not in a positive light.
“When he got to Lincoln, he was so undersized,” said Robert Hampton, the head grid coach at Lincoln. “He had glasses with huge frames. He looked like Urkel.”
Yes, Harrison conveyed the image of the quirky nerd from the popular television show, “Family Matters.”
“He was tall, but he weighed about 130 pounds,” Hampton said. “I knew he would get taller, because he had big feet.”
Harrison vividly recalled the Urkel comparison.
“I took a lot of criticism for that comment,” Harrison said. “It made me feel small. I knew I had to get into the weight room and get bigger and stronger. It was motivation for me. It was really inspiring to me.”
The next year, Harrison had morphed into the Lions’ starter at safety.
“I had come a long way,” Harrison said. “Coach Hampton showed me right from wrong. The coaches all had a lot of faith in me. I felt good about myself as a player.”
It was just the beginning for Harrison, as he developed into one of the most versatile players in Lincoln football history.
Name the position and Harrison played it. Quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive back and even linebacker. He returned punts and kicks.
“What makes him special is that he has the highest football IQ of anyone,” Hampton said. “He understands the small things and makes the big plays at the right time. He’s a jack of all trades. Since I’ve been coaching at Lincoln, he’s one of the most well rounded players we’ve ever had. He’s a marquee player. Our guys are like the Knights of the Round Table and he’s at the head of table.”
Hampton loves the diversity that Harrison provides.
“He just adds so much to the offense and defense,” Hampton said. “He’s a blessing to have.”
The Lions enter the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II state playoffs this weekend against Roselle with a perfect 9-0 record and Harrison is a major reason for the Lions’ success.
“He’s the No. 1 punt returner in the section,” Hampton said. “He is No. 1 in scoring in the section with 102 points. He’s been our leading tackler for the last two years. He’s really been a godsend for our defense. He really does it all.”
Last weekend, Harrison showed his diversification in a huge way in a big win over Dickinson to improve to 9-0. Harrison had a 76-yard reception for a touchdown, returned an interception 48 yards for another touchdown and had a 73-yard punt return for a third score in Lincoln’s 48-12 victory over the Rams.
For his efforts, Harrison has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Hampton had the greatest of praise for his senior do-everything.
“Remember when Reggie Jackson said he was the straw that stirs the Yankees drink?” Hampton said. “Well, Jason Harrison is the straw that stirs Lincoln’s drink. Without any hesitation, that’s the truth. We have Frankie [Darby, the All-State-caliber wide receiver headed for the University of Iowa] and Frankie is Frankie in terms of all factors of the game. But Jason Harrison is driving the bus for us. He’s a very strong minded kid. I just never thought he’d become one of the premier athletes in the state of New Jersey.
Added Hampton, “He’s a very good receiver and we’ve been reminded of how good of a receiver he is. But he’s doing everything for us. He’s as tough as hell. I think Jason pushes Frankie and Frankie pushes Jason. The two are best friends and they really motivate each other.”
“That’s my boy,” Harrison said of Darby. “We’ve been together since we were young. I think it goes a long way with us.”
Harrison knows that the Lions have a chance to accomplish some great things, going after the program’s first state title since 1981. They lost to Mountain Lakes in the North Jersey Section 2, Group II title game at MetLife Stadium last year and are competing in a new Central Jersey Group II bracket this season.
“We’re playing together right now,” Harrison said. “We’re each taking on a huge role and being leaders, because we’ve all worked hard toward this.”
Harrison has a few offers to go through at the end of the season. Sacred Heart, Liberty, Delaware State, Towson State, Iowa and Rutgers have shown interest.
“Everyone around the country knows him now,” Hampton said. “He’s a major [NCAA] Division I prospect.”
Harrison knows that he made some mistakes in the classroom along the way.
“If I kept my grades up in the beginning, I’d have bigger schools interested,” Harrison said. “My grades are going in the right way now. I just hope that a big school takes a chance on me. I label myself as being an athlete. I’m pretty good at all the positions. I like playing receiver and I think I’m good at defense. I know a lot of people are trying to tackle me, but they can’t. I haven’t made a decision about college, but when I do, then it will be a big burden off my shoulders.”
For now, the kid who once resembled Urkel is making his name known in the world of college football – and quite possibly, could be remembered forever for leading the Lions to the long-awaited state title. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.