GRAND FORKS-University of North Dakota cornerback Deion Harris never felt as good as he did last July, as he prepared for a senior season that was expected to be filled with NFL draft aspirations and lofty expectations for the Fighting Hawks.
That all changed during a mid-July team conditioning workout at Memorial Stadium when Harris planted his foot and attempted to turn.
"It just popped on me," Harris said. "At first, I didn't feel much. It was kind of numb. But I knew when I fell down, it was the end of my season. I tried not to let it get in my head, and it didn't get to my head until about three days after. I was just in shock at first. I've never sat out a whole season."
Harris officially learned he would miss the 2017 season with an injury to his Achilles tendon.
UND would miss out on Harris' production. As a junior, he was named All-American by two different publications. He led the Big Sky Conference with five interceptions and led the FCS with three picks returned for scores.
The injury was an omen for UND's year-the first domino to fall in a year filled with injuries. A team coming off a 9-3 season and a trip to the FCS playoffs finished with a disappointing 3-8 mark.
As UND wraps up offseason practices on Friday, April 13, with the annual Spring Game at 6 p.m. at the High Performance Center, Harris is battling to return to his previous form.
Harris, who played as a true freshman and used his redshirt season during 2017, won't participate in the Spring Game, but the 6-foot-3 Hibbing, Minn., native has been running and cutting hard and fast in non-contact drills during spring ball.
"I'm feeling good about it," Harris said. "I've been trying to get more involved, but everyone is reminding me to try to hold back and not risk getting hurt. The recovery has been coming along very well. I should be full-go by mid-summer."
Harris said the challenge has been mental, trying new things, such as explosive jumping, for the first time.
"It's a lot easier as time progresses," Harris said. "Every time I go out there, I feel a little bit better."
As UND's defensive stars like Harris, Cole Reyes, Donnell Rodgers and Evan Holm went down with injuries a year ago, Harris said it was difficult to be relegated to the sideline.
At many practices, NFL scouts often chatted with Harris on crutches as they watched Reyes on the field.
"It was the toughest part of my life," Harris said. "But I saw a different perspective of the game. I learned a lot sitting out. I literally can't wait for next season.
"The team knows they need me, and I know I need them. I'm really trying to get a championship for this team going into next season. As a team, I feel like the mentality is better than last year. We're more on track and more together. I see a good future with these young guys as we compete for a championship this year."