With less than two weeks gone in their offseason, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish continue to take strides to fix and hopefully improve the 2024 roster. The addition of former Marshall return man Jayden Harrison helps bolster an important area for the Irish, considering that Jadarian Price is expected to be used more with the team’s running attack.
Harrison arrives as a graduate transfer as well as a reigning All-American after he was selected by multiple organizations for his return prowess during the 2023 campaign. He finished second in the country in kickoff returns, averaging 30.7 yards, a number aided by the two kicks he took to the house. Four years of experience in that department should help him make a quick transition during spring ball.
A native of Tennessee, Harrison also has talents as a wide receiver with 72 catches throughout his collegiate career. He got the early attention of college recruiters at Pearl-Cohn High School in Nashville, with the Tennessee Volunteers offering him a scholarship in 2016. Besides his football ability, he was a multi-sport athlete who also competed for the school in both basketball as well as track and field.
That enthusiasm for Harrison’s talent was based on his ample potential, which manifested itself during his first two high school campaigns. After his junior season, he had caught 75 passes for 1,077 yards, 13 of them coming on touchdown receptions. During his senior year in 2018, he caught 45 more tosses for 685 yards, finding the end zone nine more times.
Despite Tennessee’s enthusiasm, Harrison ended up going to Vanderbilt, with other schools such as Kentucky, Mississippi State and Missouri also coming up short. During his first year with the Commodores, he was redshirted and then caught just eight passes for 20 yards and ran the ball once for 16 yards in 2020.
A Change of Scenery
That limited activity, coupled with Vanderbilt’s miserable 0-9 season in 2020 led Harrison to transfer to Marshall. In his first season with the Thundering Herd, he caught 24 passes for 269 yards and two scores, He also made his presence known on the return unit, gaining 378 yards on his 15 returns.
Harrison’s 25.2 average on kick returns in 2021 was enhanced by his performance in a win over Florida Atlantic. He delivered an early statement by taking the opening kickoff 99 yards for the early lead. In each of Marshall’s last three contests that season, he averaged over 20 yards per return.
In 2022, his receiving production dipped to just 12 catches for 95 yards and one touchdown. Two grabs for a combined 43 yards in a November win over Georgia Southern were one of his few highlights among this unit. His return efforts also slowed to just 15 for 298 yards, an average of 19.9 yards.
Moving Into High Gear
Marshall made it to the Frisco Bowl this past season, with Harrison’s season-long efforts a major bright spot for the 6-7 Thundering Herd. He gained 705 yards on his 23 returns and also had a collegiate career-high of 28 receptions for 410 yards, an average of 14.6 yards per catch, and one touchdown. Six of those grabs came in the bowl game and accounted for 132 yards of offense.
With returns in all but one of Marshall’s 13 games in 2023, Harrison was a busy player all season long. He twice broke the 100-yard threshold in games on returns and narrowly missed a third with 98. His two kickoff returns for touchdowns came on a 94-yard return late in a loss to James Madison and a 98-yard dash against Georgia Southern, once again starting off the game with a bang.
What to Expect
The talent differences between Notre Dame and Marshall won’t put pressure on Harrison to try and deliver a major impact in 2024. Still, he will have to try and live up to the special teams excellence that Price showed in a limited capacity this past year. Price averaged 34.4 yards on his 10 returns, with the highlight coming on a 99-yard runback in the rout of Southern Cal.
Harrison will also have an opportunity to see if he can break through among the revamped receiving unit. An infusion of new talent in fellow transfers Beaux Collins and Kris Mitchell may limit that impact. However, Irish fans can hope that Harrison causes media confusion by teaming with the returning tandem of Jayden Daniels and Jaden Greathouse to make a big splash.