There were plenty of reasons for Jalen Harris to play his final season of college football at Auburn.
A native of Montgomery, Ala., Harris was playing about an hour from home for a team that qualifies for bowl games almost every year and occasionally competes for national titles. In Harris' four seasons at Auburn, the Tigers went 33-21, played in four bowls and twice finished in the top-25 rankings.
With one year to play, however, the 6-foot-4, 255-pound tight end made a significant change. First-year Colorado head coach Mel Tucker recently said of his team, "We have to become comfortable being uncomfortable," and Harris is certainly doing just that. After graduating from Auburn in December, Harris transferred to CU and is embracing change.
"It was an adjustment at first, being a Southern kid all my life, but I'm still trying to get used to this food out here," he joked. "I'm trying to find the best spots to eat. Other than that, I'm enjoying it."
During his time at Auburn, Harris played in 42 games, with six starts, but was primarily used as a blocker. He caught just four passes for 33 yards and two touchdowns for the Tigers.
Harris wanted a more prominent role, however, and after three games last season, he decided to sit out the rest of the year so he could transfer. After Tucker was hired by CU in December, Harris got a call. The defensive coordinator at Georgia the past three years — and an assistant at Alabama the year before that — Tucker knew of Harris because he had to play against him four times.
"At the end of the day, I knew I could block," Harris said. "I think I embraced (that role) enough to call myself one of the better blocking tight ends in the nation. But, coach Tucker called and he told me he wanted me to come out here and be a leader and catch the ball.
"I knew if I wanted to make it to the next level, I'm going to need some production, so I think this will be the perfect place to do that."
Harris is coming to a team that has done very little throwing to the tight end, but that figures to change with Tucker and new offensive coordinator Jay Johnson.
"We told (Harris) we were going to throw the ball to the tight end," Tucker said last week. "I think all of those tight ends have seen that in these first three practices, that we're going to use the tight end in our offense."
Harris was a productive receiver at St. James High School, but admits he's shaking off some pass-catching rust with the Buffs.
"It's new," he said. "I could probably count on two hands the amount of times I did 7-on-7 at Auburn. Coming out of high school, I could have pretty much picked anywhere I wanted to go in the SEC, so catching the ball is natural for me. I just have to get back into that motion.
"It's just getting my confidence back up and just knowing that I can be that go-to guy. That's something that wasn't really an option at Auburn."
Harris didn't come to Boulder to simply collect personal stats and bolt for the NFL, however. Much like running back Travon McMillian last season, Harris is doing all he can to get the most out of his one season with the Buffs. After a recent practice, Harris stayed late to work with senior outside linebacker Nu'umotu Falo, Jr., so they could both improve their technique.
"I'm just trying to be the leader I can be to take everybody along with me and show them different things and make this team a championship team," Harris said. "Just to bring that slight edge and make smart decisions on and off the field — taking care of your body, being a leader and have fun. Everybody wants to play football but you can't come back to it. You need to embrace every day and take every day, step by step."
Tucker said Harris "has done a fantastic job so far," and Harris is eager to see his position group thrive. Senior Darrion Jones, a 6-6, 250-pounder who was a junior college transfer last year, and sophomores Jared Poplawski and Brady Russell are the other scholarship tight ends vying for playing time.
"There's definitely some opportunity (to catch passes as a group) and I feel like we can go nowhere but up from here," Harris said. "We'll do it all together."