With his team trailing by three touchdowns Sept. 14 at New Albany, Gahanna Lincoln High School senior football player Justus Harris noticed that fans from the visiting stands were beginning to walk out.
That proved to be a turning point in the season for the Lions, considering that they rallied to win 41-40 in two overtimes to avoid a 1-3 start and since have moved into playoff contention in Division I, Region 2.
“We’ve surprised so many people, it’s great,” Harris said. “When we were getting beat by New Albany, our whole student section left. When they were finding out we came back and won, they were shocked. It was crazy. We’ve shocked a lot of people.”
Harris has been a key part of Gahanna’s turnaround, but that’s nothing new for him or his family.
One of his brothers, Valquez Davis Jr., is a 2014 graduate who was nicknamed “Tank” during his playing days. As a junior in 2012, he helped the Lions go 7-3 and fall just short of making the Division I, Region 3 playoffs. Then as a senior in 2013, he had 25 receptions.
Another brother, Vasean Davis, is a 2015 graduate who had 968 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns and 20 receptions for 241 yards and three scores as a senior in 2014 when Gahanna made the playoffs in coach Bruce Ward’s first season after going 3-7 the previous season.
Vasean Davis is playing for Notre Dame College.
Harris has proven to be a mixture of the two players from a production standpoint.
Similar in stature to his brothers at just 5-foot-8, 180 pounds – Vasean was 5-7, 180 and Valquez was 5-10, 160 – Harris has been the Lions’ biggest playmaker on offense the last two seasons, primarily as a running back.
He rushed for 1,019 yards and 19 touchdowns last season and had 598 yards and four touchdowns on 110 carries and more than a dozen receptions while seeing significant time at slot receiver through seven games this year.
Harris had five catches for 25 yards, 58 yards on seven carries and 101 yards on kickoff returns in a 31-14 loss to Lancaster on Oct. 12.
Gahanna is 4-4 overall and 1-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division entering its game Friday, Oct. 19, at Grove City. The Dawgs fell to 0-8 overall and 0-3 in the league with a 43-7 loss to Reynoldsburg on Oct. 12.
“It’s been great working with Justus,” senior tight end C.J. Kiss said. “He’s a great guy who knows when to turn it on when he needs to. He’s good in the run and pass game, which keeps defenses on their heels not knowing how to stop him. And when teams start focusing on him, it opens up plays for others.”
Opposing defenses have loaded up the box in an effort to limit Harris’ rushing abilities and try to take advantage of a Gahanna offense that has a new quarterback in junior Will Thomas.
Harris was held to 11 yards rushing on 12 carries in a 27-13 loss at Pickerington Central on Sept. 27 and managed only 50 yards on 19 carries in a 10-7 win over visiting Reynoldsburg on Oct. 5, although he did score the Lions’ only touchdown against the Raiders.
Harris’ best performance came against New Albany when he rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries and added 108 yards and two touchdowns on five receptions.
In the second overtime, he scored on a 25-yard reception on fourth-and-15 to tie the game at 40 and the Lions made the extra point to win.
Harris also scored on a 20-yard touchdown in the first overtime against the Eagles.
“They have me playing a lot of slot this year,” Harris said. “A lot of teams like to load the box knowing our quarterback is not the most experienced yet. Our receivers are getting much better.
“The progressions we’re making have been great. We’ve been playing really hard and our defense has been stepping up a lot and making a lot of stops and causing turnovers. I’m confident going into the last (two) weeks.”