Harris would have been a senior at Duke this fall. He left campus Friday morning to visit a friend in Richmond, Va. Shortly after 11 a.m. his car left the road on Interstate 85 near Waverly, Va. The car struck trees and caught fire, killing the 21-year-old player and leaving the Duke football community in shock.
"It's a sad day," Duke football coach Ted Roof said Saturday in a hushed tone. "A big loss for his family and our football family."
According to Sgt. D.S. Carr, with the Chesapeake division of the Virginia State Police, witnesses to the accident stopped and tried to help Harris before the car caught fire.
"Nobody could get to him in time," Carr said.
Carr said it was unclear why Harris, a native of Poland, Ohio, ran off the road and into the tree-lined median, which divides the four-lane highway about 25 miles southwest of Petersburg, Va. But Roof said he was told by authorities that Harris apparently fell asleep at the wheel.
Over the past two seasons, Harris became one of Duke's very best defensive performers. In his career, he was a part of 124 tackles and made 6 1/2 sacks.
Harris would have been one of the leaders of the improving Blue Devil defense this fall. Last year, the 6-4, 235-pound defensive end had 32 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks and two forced fumbles for the Blue Devils, who finished 4-8.
Roof said the team learned of Harris' death Friday evening after a youth football camp.
"I was hoping for the best and hoping that it wasn't true, that it was a mistake," Roof said. "And it wasn't."
Duke coaches then met with about 30 players at Harris' off-campus apartment, which he shared with defensive end David Martin and offensive tackle Jim Moravchik.
The players sat in silence before eventually relating fond memories of Harris to help lighten the mood, quarterback Chris Dapolito said.
"The whole night, everybody just kept saying they didn't want to believe it," said Giuseppe Aguanno, a Duke linebacker and close friend to Harris.
"There wasn't a person on the team who didn't like him. He was friends with everybody. Everybody loved him, and he put a smile on everybody's face every time you saw him."
Roof remembered Harris as a "high-energy guy" who worked to add bulk to his frame so he could convert from linebacker to defensive lineman.
"I do remember how tough he was," Dapolito said. "His motor never stopped running. He's a scrapper, and that's what I loved about him."
Aguanno, who lived in the same apartment complex as Harris, said he last talked to Harris shortly before he left for Virginia after finishing summer classes and a workout.
Aguanno, Dapolito and Harris had planned to take a trip to New York City next weekend. It would have been Harris' first visit there.
"He was just real excited to go," Aguanno said. "He had been talking about it the whole week."
Funeral arrangements have not been finalized, the school said in a news release.
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