For a few heated seconds on the sideline, Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison looked inexperienced. The moment was rare, considering the sophomore’s veteran performance on the field.
The incident occurred during the second quarter of Crimson Tide’s 52-6 win against Southern California in Week 1. Harrison had been hearing chatter from the Trojans all game, then he saw USC linebacker Jabari Ruffin stomp on Minkah Fitzpatrick’s groin.
That might have been the last straw.
In what Alabama head coach Nick Saban called a “totally out of character” moment, Harrison began talking back and retaliating on the field. The passion then spilled over to the sideline as senior safety Eddie Jackson tried to calm Harrison down, which led to a brief spat between the two players.
“I’m a highly-competitive person, so I kind of just let it get the best of me in that time,” Harrison said. “My emotions rose high, so Eddie was just trying to be a leader and shake me, and we just had a little clash. But we’re all good now.”
It was Jackson who reminded Harrison of Alabama’s no talk back rule, urging the sophomore not to do anything he might regret.
“I was just correcting him on a mistake, a young-guy mistake on the field,” Jackson said. “He’s really stepped up from it. It got a little heated at first, but he reacted to it in a positive way.”
After the game, Harrison wasted no time apologizing to Jackson, tweeting, “We competitors, sometimes we wanna win so bad our heads clash. Still got love for my brother @EJackson_4.”
Jackson was just as quick to forgive, tweeting back, “@Rharr_15 You Know That Lil Bra Love Ya Soulja.”
An underrated recruit coming out Florida State University School in Tallahassee, Fla., Harrison wasn’t even offered by the hometown Seminoles. That didn’t stop him from starting at the Money position last year as a true freshman.
Last season, Harrison recorded 17 tackles, two interceptions, six pass breakups and a forced fumble. He also blocked punt on special teams. Now, starting alongside Jackson at safety, Harrison credits much of his growth to his senior teammate’s guidance.
“We’re both from Florida, so we kind of always had that connection,” Harrison said. “He’s just always in my head, in my ear, and he tells me that I push him every day in practice. We just kind of lean on each other and really just try to keep each other up.”
Following the Week 1 incident, Jackson said he noticed a change in Harrison. Quick to put the exchange behind him, the sophomore safety came to practice with an improved mindset, focusing on atoning the mistake.
“He’s picked up a leadership role,” Jackson said. “Holding guys accountable, especially the younger guys, letting guys follow his lead.”
The hard work paid off. Harrison recorded his first interception of the season last week, picking off a reverse pass from Western Kentucky receiver Nacarius Fant in the first quarter of Alabama’s 38-10 win.
“Before we went out on defense, Coach (Jeremy) Pruitt, he told us to be alert for shots, like they’re going to come out, they’re going to try us with some shots, some trick plays,” Harrison said. “So he was like ‘If you got the deep part of the field, just stay deep.’ That play came, they ran a reverse. I kind of felt it coming, so I just stayed deep. The ball went up, and I went and got it.”
Harrison’s leaping grab came as he out jumped teammate Marlon Humphrey for the ball. After the game Humphrey joked with Harrison on Twitter, calling him selfish for stealing his interception.
“Yeah, we talked about that,” Harrison said with a smile. “He’s kind of mad that I didn’t let him get it, but I didn’t even see him, so we just laughed it off.”
This week, Harrison will look to help lead No. 1 Alabama as it travels to No. 19 Ole Miss for its SEC opener. The game figures to offer a lot of emotion, as the Rebels are the only SEC team to beat the Tide over the past two seasons.
Harrison said he still plans to bring the same energy he always does into the game. However, he promises to be more composed if tensions rise.
“I just have to kind of use it, not talking as much,” Harrison said. “Just kind of use it as fuel just from playing and just try to slow down and just watch my emotions.”
Tony Tsoukalsas writes for the Anniston Star. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org