It was the strength of his family, and his love of athletics, that would send him on a different path than the one taken by many of his childhood friends. Jerome had seen real talent die on the streets looking for the easy way out, and he wanted better than that.
At Kalamazoo Central High School, he was an All-American Honorable Mention, and an All-State selection in his senior year. But his next obstacle came when he fell one point short of the academic requirements for Eastern Michigan University in 2001. Instead of giving up, he enrolled at Pasadena Community College and spent the next two seasons rolling up big numbers on the field and struggling day-to-day to make it in his new life.
Recruited by Washington State in 2004 predominantly as a special teams player and change-of-pace back, Harrison led the Cougars with 900 yards rushing that first season, despite starting only five games. He showed his versatility with 10 catches for 69 yards, and 10 kickoff returns for 172. Though everyone saw his estimable talent, few could have guessed what Jerome Harrison’s 2005 season would be.
Spring camp in 2005 was the first clue, as Harrison ran away from everyone and picked up his current nickname – “Ghost”. He would go on to enjoy one of the greatest seasons in WSU history, amassing 1,900 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on 308 carries. He caught 24 passes for 206 yards and another touchdown in his senior campaign, rushed for over 100 yards in every game, and broke the 200-yard barrier four times.
Still, he remains underrated and undervalued. Why? Partially because of the “Best Player on a Bad Team” factor (the Cougs went 1-3 in his 200+-yard games), partially due to our old friend, East Coast Bias…and partially because many draft experts discount his ability to carry the load at the next level with his size (5’9”, 201 at the 2006 Scouting Combine). All he can do is point to the facts, recite the numbers, and ask the world to pay attention.
Jerome Harrison puts it this way: “That’s my whole life – start from the bottom up.”
What he also tells us in this exclusive interview is the secret to ending the story on top.
Seahawks.NET (Q): Can you tell us about your childhood, your family and when you discovered football?
Jerome Harrison (A): I was born and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan and spent a lot of my summers in Detroit, which is where both of my parents are from. Three sisters, two older and one younger, no brothers. Blessed to have both my mother and father together. Grew up in a rough neighborhood at first. Saw a lot of things, heard a lot of things, was a part of things I shouldn’t have been a part of growing up at first, but that’s when I really got involved with sports.
There was a park around the corner where some of the greatest athletes I had ever seen played basketball and football but never really had a chance or opportunity. I just watched them play and started playing with those guys at a young age and that’s where I started to get my competitive edge from.
Q: You said you watched great athletes that didn’t have that opportunity, so what was different about you?
A: A lot of those guys were raised in single-parent families and a lot of them got caught up in gang-related activities, you know, stealing, doing drugs, selling drugs and all that stuff. I was blessed to have both parents because they kept me out of trouble like that or let me get involved with stuff like that.
Q: What do your parents do?
A: My father is a landscaper and my mother is an activities director.
Q: So it was really the close-knit family and athletics that got you to where you are now?
Q: What NFL players did you enjoy watching when you were growing up?
A: Barry Sanders was the only one I watched.
Q: Were the Lions your team?
A: Yep. Oh yeah, that’s my team. When he retired, I left. I quit watching the NFL for the longest time after he left. I just started watching it again.
Q: Coming out of Kalamazoo Central, you received a lot of honors. How many colleges recruited you out of high school?
A: I was getting a lot of attention, but I got a 17 on my ACT and I needed an 18. A lot of schools quit recruiting me after that.
Q: You first enrolled at Eastern Michigan?
A: Yep – Eastern Michigan University. Things didn’t work out. It just wasn’t the right place for me. They had great coaches and everything, but I was just going home, back and forth too much, not focusing on school, so I got away and went to good old Pasadena and the rest is in the history books.
Q: What was behind your choice to go to Pasadena?
A: I just wanted to get away from home and stand on my own two feet and become my own man.
Q: And you were there for two years?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: What did you enjoy most about that time?
A: Not seeing snow for two years (laughs).
Q: What was the most important thing you learned when you were there?
A: If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger…because I went through a lot of rough nights, not having anything to eat and sleeping on people’s floors and stuff. I mean, I could have easily called my mom and my family and said “I need some money”, but that’s just not how I am. I don’t like to depend on anybody, not even my own mother and father.
Q: This was when self-reliance was the big internal lesson for you?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: What was behind your decision to commit to Washington State in 2004?
A: Jonathan Smith played at Pasadena the year before I got there. I watched him play at Washington State and I’m like “Man, we’ve got similar styles” and I saw the success he had at Washington State and in the Pac 10 and you know being the athlete I am, I’m thinking, “I’m better than Jonathan Smith.” I thought I’d have a great year and nobody in the Pac 10 could stop me.
Q: Had they recruited you out of high school?
A: No, sir.
Q: What are the primary differences between a community college football program and a major college football program?
A: In junior college, you’re not on scholarship, so you don’t really have to practice. It’s not mandatory because you’re not on scholarship, like a lot of guys don’t lift weights on their own. That’s the difference, the dedication you have to put into it at D-1 (Division 1) that you don’t have to at junior college. The seriousness of it in junior college is nowhere near the serious business of D-1.
Q: Moving onto your Washington State career, you started five games as a junior, but you still led the team in rushing. Did you have a feeling at that point that you were on your way to the kind of senior year that you had?
A: Yeah. In spring ball we scrimmage every Saturday. We had four or five scrimmages, and every scrimmage, my stats would be five carries for 100 or six carries for 97, you know it was low carries for close to 100.
First week of August (2005) I was doing an interview and I said, “I’m running for 1,800-plus.” I called it in August, so I actually short-changed myself (laughs).
Q: Is that when you got the nickname, “The Ghost”?
A: Yeah that was in spring ball.
Q: Who gave you that name?
A: Coach Ken Greene, the defensive backs coach. I had a couple of impressive runs and he started calling me that.
Click on the link to read Part Two of our exclusive interview with Jerome Harrison, in which he talks about his Combine, Pro Day and Senior Bowl experiences, the teams he has met with, and his NFL hopes and dreams.
Many thanks go to Jerome Harrison, Hilary Connelly of Octagon Football, and Scott Eklund.