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'The right move to make': Former N.C. State defensive back talks transferring to UNC

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UNC safety recruit Jakeen Harris answers questions from the media during a press conference held for transfer recruits on Friday, Feb. 7, 2024 at the Kenan Football Center.

When he met with media in early February , Jakeen Harris wore UNC slides.

This makes sense, as Harris is a new Tar Heel via the transfer portal. But his socks weren’t Jordan Brand — instead, they were black with a red Adidas logo. The defensive back's wardrobe still contains remnants of his previous school: N.C. State. 

“Obviously that’s an interesting transfer, going from an in-state rival to here,” UNC football general manager Patrick Suddes said. “But that’s the nature of the portal now. Everybody’s just looking for an opportunity to go and compete and play.”

Harris will make the unique switch from Carter-Finley Stadium to Kenan Stadium for his final year of eligibility in 2024. The Savannah, Ga. native played in 48 games for the Wolfpack over five seasons and started 22 of them. Harris’ best season for N.C. State came as a sophomore in 2020 when he started every game and tallied 76 tackles, an interception and seven pass break ups.

His 2023 season ended before it could really begin when he suffered a left pectoral tear in the Wolfpack’s first game. He’s recovered now, however, and will provide needed experience in the secondary for head coach Mack Brown given the departures of Giovanni Biggers and Don Chapman in 2024

After Harris entered the transfer portal in late November, it didn’t take long for him to get on campus. UNC’s staff called Harris and wanted him to come visit. A few days later, he made the short drive to Chapel Hill. On the visit, the Tar Heels staff showed Harris his film and told him what they like about his game. Harris said defensive backs coach Charlton Warren was “fired up” about him.

“Just meeting with Coach Brown and Coach Warren,” Harris said. “It was just great relationships, and I just felt like this was the right move to make.”

The transition has been smooth andHarris said he's already developed a bond with his new teammates, especially fellow defensive backs Alijah Huzzie and Antavious "Stick" Lane. Suddes said the team has embraced Harris and that he expects him to be a leader for the Tar Heels.

But what type of football player is Harris? Well, he loves to tackle — the most important skill for a safety. He said he learned by competing in the Oklahoma drill when he was little. Harris is also an instinctive and physical player with a knack for finding the football.

“Just getting around him, you can tell how important football is to him,” Suddes said. “He’s tough as crap.”

That toughness and love for the game shows in his desire to finish his college career strong in 2024. 

Following a great year in 2020, Harris’ numbers decreased over the next two. He started six games in 2021 and only two in 2022. Then came the injury in 2023. It required a surgery — and another surgery just days after because of an infection. It hasn’t been an easy run.

“You gotta keep going every day because you never know when you can be taken away from the game,” Harris said. “I had two injuries, so I know how it feels, but I never had a season ending injury. That really hit me hard [last] year, and now I know you have to just take it one day at a time and just work hard at everything.”

Harris is looking forward to the occasion of playing against his former team this upcoming season, but his aspirations extend beyond Nov. 30. 

“For me, I want to win an ACC Championship,” Harris said. “So that’s the goal — to win an ACC Championship and hopefully be in the playoffs.”

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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