UF safety Marcell Harris kept the faith and is finally producing for Gators

UF safety Marcell Harris is living up to his potential during his fourth season. Harris had a career-high seven tackles and an interception last weekend against South Carolina. GAINESVILLE — Duke Dawson has known Marcell Harris since the two Florida Gators ‘ defensive backs were in elementary school.

"We call each other cousins," Dawson said.

These days, Dawson hardly recognizes Harris. Or at least it has been awhile since Dawson has seen him balling the way he is now.

Four seasons since Harris arrived as one of the nation’s top-rated safeties, he is playing like he and everyone expected.

Along the way, Harris battled a lingering knee injury sustained in 2012 during his senior season at Dr. Phillips and became lost in the shuffle of one of the nation’s top secondaries.

The times Harris did get on the field, he too often was out of position and rarely produced.

"I think he was pressing," UF 2003 All-American cornerback Keiwan Ratliff said.

An eight-year NFL veteran, Ratliff coached a 7-on-7 team — the Rat Pak — that included Harris, Dawson and former Gators’ star safety Keanu Neal.

Back then, Harris was neck and neck with Neal.

"At that age Keanu was more physically imposing, but Marcell was more athletically gifted," Ratliff recalled. "It was tomato, tomatoe."

Once at UF, though, Neal blossomed while Harris’ growth was stunted by a second surgery to his right knee.

Harris never caught up to Neal, who became a two-year starter and first-round draft pick in 2016.

"He went in thinking he was going to come in early, play early and leave early," Ratliff said of Harris. "Marcell kind of had to wait his turn, but I think that was a blessing in disguise."Harris watched, waited and learned. The 22-year-old also regained confidence in his right knee.The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Harris now combines his physical gifts with a keen understanding of the Gators’ scheme. He also has a swagger not seen since high school."He’s playing with confidence," Dawson said.Harris will replace fifth-year senior Marcus Maye, who broke his left arm last Saturday against South Carolina , as the Gators take on LSU’s talented tailback tandem of Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. The duo combined for 349 rushing yards and five touchdowns last week at Arkansas.Harris lately has been on a roll of his own.He entered the season with 29 tackles. He is currently sixth on the team with 35, including career-high seven stops and an interception last weekend."Honestly man, I’m just really blessed to be out there," Harris said after the game. "Every time I come out there I try to make it the best. You never always get this opportunity. It could be taken away from you in a quick second."So every time I get out there, I lock in."Teammates see a difference in Harris this season."Whatever he’s supposed to do he knows it," All-SEC cornerback Jalen Tabor said. "He’s way more sharp. I can definitely see that."Even when Harris was in the background, showing up occasionally on special teams or when someone needed a breather, he […]