The 2 sides of Jacory Harris: Miami's hopes rest on quarterback having a big 2010 campaign

Miami quarterback Jacory Harris is a quiet person by nature. Not flamboyant. Doesn't strive to be the life of the party. Sort of an introvert, really.

And then there's J12.

"Total opposite," Harris said.

College football, meet J12. Harris' alter ego. Miami's gameday leader. And the unquestioned key to the Hurricanes' hopes in 2010.

When 13th-ranked Miami opens its season Sept. 2 against Florida A&M, all eyes will be on No. 12 when the Hurricanes' offense takes the field. After throwing for 3,352 yards and 24 touchdowns in his first season as a starter, the 195-pound junior knows he can be among the elite in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Now it's time, he says, for both he and Miami to take a big step forward.

That's where J12 — what he calls himself — comes into play.

"I'd say J12 is the guy who's completely confident about everything and has fun, loosens up when he gets on the field," Harris said in an interview with The Associated Press. "On the field, in the huddle, that's when he comes out. Then off the field, I'm my regular self. No one sees J12 off the field. I never intertwine the two."

Maybe not anymore. But the two sort of did intertwine at times last year, to Harris' detriment.

Oddly enough, if Harris has one regret from 2009, it wouldn't stem from any of the 17 interceptions — second-most in major college football. He was picked off three times in a loss to Clemson, stunning for the fact that Miami wasted seven leads in the game. And three weeks later, Harris threw four more interceptions in a loss to North Carolina, a defeat that doomed the Hurricanes' ACC hopes.

No, in Harris' mind, his biggest mistake might have come early in the season.

When Miami defied oddsmakers and pundits to beat Oklahoma, Florida State and Georgia Tech in the first month of the 2009 campaign, Harris-for-Heisman talk was all the rage. And he bought into it, too, especially after a tongue-in-cheek comment he made to a radio show about planning to wear a pink suit to the Heisman presentation took on a life of its own.

The pink suit never appeared. Harris didn't last in the Heisman race. And the 'Canes sputtered, going 4-3 in their last seven games.

"When you get a lot of accolades, of course it's going to get to your head," wide receiver LaRon Byrd said. "We're all teenagers. We're all humans at the end of the day. We know that now."

They're not all teenagers, but young enough to make Byrd's point.

Starting 3-1 last season turned Miami into a bunch of rock stars, and their quarterback — part of football royalty in South Florida, simply by being a local kid who became the starter at Quarterback U — was the bandleader. So he started pressing, trying to do too much, forcing passes that weren't there.

In other words, too much J12, not enough Jacory.

"I'm better suited to deal with it all now," Harris said. "The Heisman, it's just a great feeling to have your name mentioned. Of course you want to win it, but at the same time, you have a team that you have to help win. You can't win the Heisman if your team isn't winning. I think Tim Tebow did it when they went 8-4. But it usually doesn't happen like that. You've got to have a championship team."

To have that, you've got to have a quarterback. In J12 they trust.

"Jacory's much more of a leader now," Miami coach Randy Shannon said. "He's older now. He sees things now. The guys look up to him and it's not just the offense. He's around the whole locker room, trying to set an example."

Part of Harris' story in 2009 was growing pains.

Part of it was just pain, brought on by a thumb injury.

Harris had fun with the incessant speculation over his health last season, refusing to take his throwing hand out of the pocket of his sweat shirt one day so no one could see the brace he was wearing, then putting on a sling for a postgame interview — only to rip it off as he walked out of the room, his way of letting everyone know he was trying to be funny.

It wasn't entirely a joke. By season's end, Harris could barely grip the ball. He was so hurt that he feared his playing days were over.

Surgery and rehab followed, Harris sat out the spring to rest and heal, and teammates say that in camp over the past few weeks his fastball has had more zip than ever.

"I don't know how else to say it," Shannon said. "Jacory's ready."

Harris watched just about every minute of spring practice, taking snaps without a ball, working on his footwork, studying more film than ever before. When he would see backups Spencer Whipple and Alonzo Highsmith Jr. make mistakes, Harris turned to coaches in disbelief over the miscues.

What Harris really couldn't believe was this: He was making the same mistakes when he came to Miami. So he checked the film again, and sure enough, coaches were right. Harris watched over and over, baffled by the decisions he was making. He paid almost no attention to the good plays, spending his time breaking down the blunders.

"The tape doesn't lie," Harris said. "So physically I wasn't on the field. Mentally I was there. I could really check my progressions and see how things really are, without defenses rushing at me. I could see routes develop in certain coverages. I got more into the playbook. I'm more comfortable than ever with the plays."

More comfortable than ever with his role, too.

Harris came to Miami as part of a vaunted group of recruits from Northwestern High, one of the powerhouses of football not just in South Florida but the entire Sunshine State. Once that group hit their junior season in high school, things just clicked, and back-to-back perfect seasons followed.

In his junior year of college, Harris thinks another click is coming.

"It took me some time to get comfortable with it all, and I think I still am," Harris said. "I'm still the kind of guy that when people say things, I can't believe they're talking about me. When I got here, people had me like, 'Jacory Harris, the savior.' That's not me. I'm just a regular guy trying to win a national championship with my team."

Whoa. Regular guys don't win national championships.

"I know," Harris said. "That's why J12 is going to come out."