CHESTNUT HILL - Boston College senior running back and preseason ACC Player of the Year Montel Harris made his much-anticipated return to action in Saturday afternoon's 45-17 rout of the UMass Minutemen at Alumni Stadium.
Harris made his 2011 debut on the Eagles' first drive of the game, with his first rush of the season being a one-yard gain that gave BC a first down at the UMass 4 yard line. Harris had nine carries in the game for 27 net yards, and said he enjoyed every minute of it.
"It felt great getting back on the field after missing five games," Harris said. "Just got to get myself back into game shape. It's pretty fun out there."
The numbers weren't up to par for Harris, who entered the game needing only 126 rushing yards to capture the school record for career rushing yards (Derrick Knight owns the BC career rushing record with 3,725 rushing yards). After Saturday's performance, Harris is only 99 yards away.
"I need to improve on just getting back in game shape, getting used to getting hit and picking up blocks," Harris said after Saturday's win. "Just knocking off some of the rust."
"Montel was certainly not in game shape," said Eagles head coach Frank Spaziani. "Rust I guess is the word. But Montel's presence just adds a lot. He is one that's productive and a senior. The fact that he was able to be out there and practice and generate what Montel does, you guys don't get to see him but he is an enthusiastic energetic young man, it rubs off on other people."
Times had been tough for Harris over the summer and leading up to BC's win over UMass, with his knee injury keeping him out from the final week of the regular season in 2010 and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against Nevada, a game in which the Eagles were defeated, 20-13.
Not only had Harris been unable to get back on the field as promptly as he had hoped, but his team had also been struggling mightily. BC lost its first three games of the season against Northwestern (24-17), Central Florida (30-3) and Duke (20-19), and its hopes for a bowl bid for the 13th year in a row were quickly fading.
Yet for Harris, who is a clear leader on this team, he is very thankful to be back out in the trenches with his teammates.
"It means a lot," said Harris when asked about what it meant to him emotionally to get back on the field. "Seeing my team fall to 0-3 and how it responded so well, it just meant a lot to me, being out there with my teammates again."
Harris was also extremely grateful for the other running backs on the Eagles roster, particularly Andre Williams (20 carries, 95 yards vs. UMass), who filled in admirably for Harris in his absence.
"Andre did a very good job," Harris said. "Also Tahj [Kimble], the running backs as a whole did a great job. [They were] able to make some plays. They're going to continue to make plays. I can't do it by myself."
Naturally, a player of Harris' caliber with his level of leadership was greatly missed by his teammates, especially Colin Larmond Jr. (six catches, 114 yards, 2 TD vs. UMass), who was very pleased to have his good friend back on the field alongside him.
"It's good to see him back," Larmond said. "It's always good to have one of your players back, especially a player like Montel. He was out for so long and then to see him come back. He is always hyper; having him around is good for us. He is my roommate and it's good to have my roommate back and seeing him do what he loves to do: play football."
Harris admitted that he was nervous about the possibility of not being able to return to the Eagles roster in time, but in the end, it turned out just fine.
"Everything worked out and my knee's feeling as best as its felt after the second surgery, so I'm just ready to move forward."