Playing for his teammates is second nature to Xavier Harrison.
The New Hope High School senior doesn’t know how he came to possess a drive to track down opponents and a knack for making life miserable for attacking players.
Regardless of how Harrison acquired those skills, the defender enjoys tracking back to dispossess opponents and to support his back line mates and his goalkeeper because it is all part of his job and he wants his team to achieve the best possible results.
“I just put it all on the line,” Harrison said. “I put my body on the line. I give sacrifice. I love playing with my guys. I am going to miss playing with them. It has been fun.”
Harrison’s work ethic endeared him to his teammates and played a key role in his ability to earn an opportunity to continue his soccer career at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston. On Tuesday, Harrison celebrated that decision in a signing ceremony in the lobby of New Hope High.
“I knew if I worked hard enough and gave 110 percent every day I would get an opportunity,” Harrison said. “I gave it all I had in the tryout.”
Harrison credited New Hope High boys soccer coach Andrew Olsen for providing valuable guidance the last two seasons to help him realize his goal to play sports in college. For years, Harrison may have thought baseball would be the sport that earned him an opportunity in college. But New Hope High baseball and soccer teammate Bryce Braddock convinced Harrison to try out for the school’s soccer team in his sophomore season. Since then, Harrison has matured into a student of the game. His athleticism and drive not to get beaten has made him an effective defender.
Harrison said he attended a tryout at Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. and felt he did well. It turns out he was right because Harrison will join New Hope High senior Cai Earhart in Perkinston. Both players were part of a defense Olsen, who played center back at East Mississippi C.C., said was one of the strengths of the team.
“Out of all of the players I have coached, he puts in more time looking at film and putting in work trying to perfect his game,” Olsen said. “If I tell him one thing he needs to work on, he is going to work at it and work at it. When he is on the field, he gives 100 percent. He never takes a play off.”
New Hope (14-5) beat Corinth on penalty kicks in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A State tournament. It lost to Northeast Jones in the second round.
Harrison, who was one of 10 seniors on the squad, worked with classmates Earhart, Daniel Bradley, and Dawson Vasser and junior Nate Pope on defense in front of Braddock. Olsen said Harrison played right back as a junior and left back as a senior and “saved” the Trojans numerous times this season by hustling back and making a defensive play. He said Harrison competes for balls in the air and uses his speed to make ball possession difficult if he is in the area. Even if Harrison isn’t in arms length of an opponent, his relentless nature to dispossess other players drives him every second.
At 5-foot-6, 162 pounds, Harrison knows he isn’t an imposing player who is going to give a forward pause when he attacks, but Olsen said don’t underestimate Harrison because he has a will to win the ball.
“When people realize how fast and relentless he is, it kind of gets in their head because when they get the ball they’re always looking up because they know he is coming,” Olsen said.
Harrison smiles when asked about his penchant for catching players from behind and slide-tackling the ball away. He said he has grown to love a sport he came to late in his athletic career. Harrison said he has worked to improve his touch and his ability to read the game and to take better angles to shut down attacking players. He said he is excited to continue to learn and to grow as a player.
“I have been playing baseball since I was 6 and I have been playing soccer since my sophomore year,” Harrison said. “I was thinking I was going to miss baseball way more than because I have been playing it so long. I really love soccer. It is so fun. I love running.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.