BOONE — Davante Harris isn’t Appalachian State’s most highly rated prospect for the NFL Draft, but he might be the most intriguing.
He is also the most unlikely of the Mountaineers showcasing their talents today at App State’s pro day, where players will work out in front scouts from more than 20 NFL teams at the Sofield Family Indoor Practice Facility.
Harris is a former defensive lineman, whose size (6-foot-6, 300 pounds) and success in just 12 starts at left tackle are drawing interest. He is projected as a late-round selection for the draft in April, according to online analyses.
It’s a long way from the bench, where he spent the second half of 2014 after losing his starting job as right tackle to freshman Beau Nunn.
“When I got benched, it was real hard for me at the beginning,” Harris said. “I wasn’t playing bad, but I wasn’t playing as good as I could have. I wasn’t playing as good as I should have been playing, but it was really a big learning experience. I needed to sit down and get my priorities straight.”
Harris’ struggles on the field were mostly related to his lifestyle off it. He never seemed able to consistently put together a long stretch of practice or strength and conditioning work because of illness and injuries.
After a three-week illness dropped Harris — scheduled to become the starter at left tackle — to 252 pounds in January 2015, coach Mike Sirignano, App State’s director of strength and conditioning, stopped by Harris’ apartment.
“I went to his house and checked out his apartment, and I walked in and it was a disaster,” Sirignano said. He also said Harris’ eating habits were not good.
Harris met with Sirignano and coach Dwayne Ledford, App State’s former offensive line coach. Sirignano gave Harris the choice of remaining off-campus and changing, “absolutely everything you’re doing outside this building” or moving on campus and following Sirignano’s plan.
“That probably went on for a good hour, got a little heated,” Sirignano said. “He finally came to the realization and agreed with me that he wasn’t doing things outside of football right — not like he was doing anything malicious — he was just always getting sick. He never put a long training window together to see what his body could develop to.”
Harris immediately moved back onto campus and embraced Sirignano’s plan, sending him a photo of every meal — including waking up at 3 a.m. to eat — for five months.
With 51 pounds added back to his frame, Harris was a new player when he showed up for preseason practice.
“Once you create that habit, it kind of just snowballs like everything else in life, and he’s just been lights out ever since,” Sirignano said. “The energy level he could bring every day on a consistent basis, the habits we had created together … his energy level was there, his work capacity was there, so he was able to work at a higher level, consistently on a day-to-day basis to take his game to the next level.”
There were big shoes to fill for Harris, who replaced Kendall Lamm, who went from an undrafted free agent to starter at left tackle for the Houston Texans this season.
“That was a big question, everybody felt like, ‘Everybody is coming back but Kendall, are we going to have a drop-off?’ I used that to fuel how I approached things, how I worked out because I don’t want this year to be known as, ‘Oh, Davante let them down,’ or the offense wasn’t as a good because we were missing this great offensive tackle.”
Allowing just one sack on the season and helping to pave the way for a rushing attack that averaged 271 yards, Harris earned second-team all-Sun Belt honors.
That limited experience is perhaps most attractive to scouts, who see a physical specimen with nothing but potential. It’s rare to have a fifth-year left tackle with just one year of starting experience.
“His training age is pretty young. He still hasn’t really worn out the tread on his body,” Sirignano said. “He’s got some quality time left in his body, where a guy coming out of the ACC or the SEC probably has a little more wear to him.
“He’s been here for five years now, and really at the end of the day, in that five years he’s only put together 16 weeks of uninterrupted training.”
During his fourth year, the thought of working out in front of NFL scouts wouldn’t have crossed Harris’ mind.
“It’s actually quite surreal. Wouldn’t think I’d be here right now; it’s very surreal, thinking back a year from now, sitting on the bench and watching my boys playing,” Harris said. “It’s a blessing from God, I think.”