Saturday, August 18, 2018

Zephyrhills' Charles Harrison III continues family's quarterback legacy

ZEPHYRHILLS — Charles Harrison III lofted a 32-yard touchdown pass on his fourth attempt of the game. The Zephyrhills High senior spent the rest of the half launching left-handed strikes from wherever his swift feet would take him.

The speed. The strong arm. The improvisational skills. It is all part of Harrison's athletically divine DNA.

This football lineage bridges three generations. Harrison III shares a name, a number (12) and a position with his father and grandfather.

"Playing quarterback is just what we do in this family," said his dad, Harrison Jr.

The Harrisons are defined not only by the sport, but by tragedy.

Charles "Bo" Harrison, the patriarch of the family, was a multisport athlete for Mickens, the all-black school at the time in Dade City. He scored 55 touchdowns in his high school career, including 22 passing and 18 rushing as a quarterback in 1963.

Harrison went on to become a Pasco County Sheriff's lieutenant. In 2003, he was shot while on patrol near a nightclub in Lacoochee. Deputies found Harrison in his patrol car, not breathing.

The beloved hometown hero died a month before he was set to retire.

Harrison Jr. said he often went to that nightclub. Instead, he stayed home and was asleep when he got the news.

"I drove to where the shooting happened," Harrison Jr. said. "Sheriff deputies took me to the scene, then I went to the hospital. Once Daddy was gone, I just couldn't believe it. I lost it."

Harrison III was 2 years old at the time, still too young to remember much about his grandfather.

"I wasn't able to really understand what happened back then," he said. "But I've gotten to know my grandfather through all the stories everyone would tell."

Football is the family heirloom passed from one generation to the next.

Harrison and Harrison Jr. were consumed by the sport. Harrison coached his son in youth leagues. They tossed the ball in the yard in their spare time.

"I was just raised on football," Harrison Jr. said.

In high school, Harrison Jr. was a quarterback at Pasco. In 1992, he was the backup to Isaac Johnson.

On the eve of the state championship game, Johnson was arrested.

Harrison Jr. was set to start in the biggest game in school history.

It never happened. Johnson was released and led the Pirates to a win over Jesuit in the title game.

"We were all at home the night before the championship game," Harrison Jr. said. "Daddy got a call and found out Isaac was in jail. He raced down to the station to see what happened and if there was anything he could do.

"I was ready to go, and I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to start. But I wanted Isaac to be there. We were undefeated with him, and I didn't want the game plan to change."

Harrison Jr. did not start, but he did get a state championship ring, something that he shows to his son all the time.

"I tell him he needs to get one of his own," Harrison Jr. said.

Much like he did with his father, Harrison Jr. bonds with his son through the sport.

Harrison Jr. coached his son until high school.

"I've been playing since I was 4," Harrison III said. "I learned a lot growing up. The throws, the handoffs, the routes. It all just easy to me. I think it had to do with my dad teaching me those things at such an early age."

When Harrison III got to Zephyrhills, he wanted to wear No. 12 as an homage to his grandfather and father.

Now the number is not the only thing that bears resemblance to his family's past. Harrison III is doing it through his play with 17 touchdown passes, 11 in the past two games.

"I think you're seeing all that hard work paying off," Harrison Jr. said. "It's something that runs in the family."

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