There are not a lot of questions when it comes to the Wake Forest offense this year. Most of the firepower returns and the scoreboard lights should get a healthy workout each game. But the defense…well there is the defense. Last year it was one of the worst in the country against the run and lacked the general aggressiveness needed for long-term success in the ACC. There is new defensive coordinator Brad Lambert and a new scheme for the defense. That is expected to add some assertiveness. And while there is a wealth of experience returning, there is also the rare Demon Deacon transfer portal intake. New Wake Forest safety Brendon Harris is expected to add some spark after coming over from the SEC.
Harris is a grad transfer from Vanderbilt. While he is entering his fifth year in college football, because of the 2020 Covid allowances from the NCAA, he technically has two years of eligibility remaining, including the 2022 season.
Getting His Start In Nashville
He was a four-star recruit, per the 247Sports composite, coming out of Chattanooga, Tennessee in the class of 2018. He was one of the highest-rated recruits in then-head coach Derek Mason’s tenure at Vanderbilt. Mason beat out Florida, Clemson, Auburn, and Tennessee among others, for Harris’ defensive back services. Mason, and his well-known vest, were dismissed from Vandy after the 2020 season. Harris played his fourth year at Vanderbilt for Clark Lea. He got his undergrad degree in Medicine, Health, and Society at Vandy as he finished his days in Nashville.
Now he leaps from one elite academic institution to another to complete his football and educational journey. And he is expected to bring some big game experience to the Wake defensive secondary.
In his time in Nashville, Harris had 82 total tackles and four pass deflections. In his freshman year at Vanderbilt, the Commodores were 6-7 overall and beat the likes of Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Tennessee in conference play. They lost to Baylor in the Texas Bowl. Vandy was a more typical 5-28 in the three years after that.
Making The Move
Harris said the academic transition has been easy. “It’s been a breeze,” he said this week. “Since high school, [at Baylor School in Chattanooga], I have been adjusting to the higher standard of education. It’s really important to me. So, I attack it the same way I attack football, with everything I’ve got.” At Wake Forest, he is in the master’s Liberal Arts Study Program, which the school touts as a cross-sectional, interrelated program. Harris said it is a continuation of many of the research-style classes he took as an undergrad at Vanderbilt.
He said he left Vanderbilt, first making sure he had his degree, looking for a new opportunity. “For me, it was just looking for a change, and new opportunity, and a new team so I could get in a new environment and grow in a different way.”
There is also the adjustment of going to school in Nashville, with a population of about 700,000 to being in Winston-Salem with a population of under 250,000. The nightlife and entertainment options are significantly different. Harris says that is not a factor for him. “My ultimate goal is to get to the NFL, so I am here to work on football and attack academics and just be productive in those areas.”
He said there is a difference between his most recent year at Vanderbilt to the current state of affairs at Wake Forest, and it is a football difference. “Things are different here. The guys are held to a higher standard here,” he told the media Friday. “There’s a lot more player-to-player accountability.” Asked for a specific example of the difference between the two football programs, Harris provided the following case in point. “One of the first things I noticed was on a Saturday, we had optional recovery. Almost 80 or 90 guys were in there, [in the workout room]. It just surprised me.”
He also said the work as a unit is something different for him. “After we lift, the safeties, as a group, we get together, catch balls, stretch out together, get hand work in together.” He said there is a group drive towards getting better.
He credits safeties coach James Adams with instilling that work ethic among the defensive backs. “He’s very positive. He hounds us and stays on us, but it’s out of love,” Harris said. “He wants us to have a great effort and great attitude every day.”
Adams says Harris brings an immediate bump to the defensive secondary because of his experience. “He’s another guy who has been on the big stage,” Adams told us. “The beauty of our group last year was that they were young, but they all played.” That includes playing in the ACC championship game and the Gator Bowl. “So Brendon comes in and he has had a similar experience. When you go down and you play LSU or you go to Alabama, he’s been on the biggest stages in college football.”
Adams said that kind of experience brings familiarity to his new group. “For him to join our fold, it’s like he’s been here since the beginning. It’s not really new to him.”
The Work Ethic Factor
Harris’ adaptation to his new football life at Wake Forest has also caught the attention of head coach Dave Clawson. “He’s played football in a very good league, at a very high level and he was productive,” Clawson said Friday. “I’m just really impressed that he’s just come in here and he just works. He doesn’t talk a lot. He knows he’s new. He’s trying to fit in and help our team. I’m really impressed with him.”
Harris has apparently already meshed well with the work ethic he found at Wake Forest. “He’s a guy, that already, we’re having to run out of the building,” Adams said, making the correlation to a football version of the basketball gym rat. “He’s in there in the morning. And he’s in there in the afternoon. Or if he’s not there in the afternoon, he’s in there midday and in the evening, watching film and starting to game plan for opponents. “
Speaking of planning for opponents; yes every player tells you he looks at the season one game at a time, but we would be kidding ourselves if Harris has not given a little attention to week two of Wake Forest’s schedule…in Nashville…against Vanderbilt. “It’ll mean a little something, yeah,” he admitted.