Nate Harris is a perfectionist.
That’s a hard standard to bear when you’re a starting cornerback for the Montana football team, cast on an island chasing speedy wideouts. It’s like trying to control the weather.
Yet he insists on pursuing what will always be elusive.
“Not just on the football field, but when it comes to school, clothes – I lay my clothes out every night before the next day,” said the junior, an all-Big Sky Conference academic team selection.
“I try to do everything to perfection. I know I’m never going to be able to reach that. But if I try it and I fall a little short then maybe I’ll still be successful.”
Harris was Montana’s most consistent corner last season, sharing team-high honors in interceptions with three. But in keeping with his modus operandi, the play he remembers most was a lowlight in the FCS playoffs against Coastal Carolina.
“I am proud that I only gave up one touchdown pass last year, but one is too many,” he said Friday after preseason practice at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. “The one they caught on me was a long one and it was crucial at the time. Basically it was just me not playing the correct technique.
“It still haunts me. Guys still get on me about it. When they talk about it, it just eats my heart. I still have dreams about it.”
Harris was just as hard on himself in reviewing Friday’s performance in practice. He picked off a pass in 7-on-7 action but his one missed tackle weighed on his mind.
“I like that he wants to be coached hard,” Griz cornerbacks coach Aric Williams said. “He’s never satisfied with mediocre.
“He’s a guy I never really have to motivate. And he owns up to his mistakes. He doesn’t make excuses when he does wrong. Whether he disagrees or not, he’s just, ‘Yes Coach, no Coach.’ And he just gets it fixed.”
Harris believes he has improved since 2013. Knowing what he knows now, it’s not easy for the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Californian to watch film from last season.
“I think that’s what makes him have so much success,” Williams said of Harris’ diligence working on his game, “and makes me and all the other coaches have faith in him.”
As Montana’s most experienced corner, No. 11 holds himself responsible for setting an example in preseason workouts. He does so with his typical energetic approach to practice and willingness to go out of his way to help teammates in the secondary.
“When guys would mess up I used to not say too much about it, just let them do theirs and just focus on me,” Harris said. “Kind of because I was nervous if I messed up, how would they feel about it?
“But I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like I have to make sure I do my job so that when other guys mess up, I’m able to hold them accountable for their job as well.”
Williams has stressed on both his starting corners – senior Joshua Dennard plays opposite Harris – the importance of helping the upstarts. That includes up-and-coming sophomore JR Nelson, redshirt freshman Ryan McKinley and a couple of walk-ons, including Tyrel Garner.
“I told (Harris and Dennard), ‘Unless you guys want to play 90 snaps a game without a break, which I had to do when I played, then you need to help me bring these guys along,’” said Williams, a former Oregon State player.
“Nate has definitely helped me with the younger guys. Experience at our position is so key and he has that experience. It’s going to help him be better this year.”
Head coach Mick Delaney believes his group of cornerbacks has shown collective improvement since last season. Griz quarterback Jordan Johnson has also taken note after battling the group in summer workouts.
Experience is a key ingredient. Harris has 15 starts and Dennard has played in 24 games, including five starts. Nelson played in 11 games last year.
That experience will be especially important early in the season since Montana will be working with three new starting linebackers and a new starter at strong safety. Justin Whitted is No. 1 on the depth chart at strong safety and his appearance at practice on Friday after missing two days with an injury was a good sign.