Northwood’s Brendan Harrington off to a hot start for surging Mountaineers

'He's all the right things,' App State's head coach said

Posted 11/18/20

PITTSBORO — Back in high school, Brendan Harrington didn’t have to worry about touches.

Even as he blossomed into a star Division I linebacker prospect at Northwood, he maintained a steady …

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Northwood’s Brendan Harrington off to a hot start for surging Mountaineers

'He's all the right things,' App State's head coach said

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PITTSBORO — Back in high school, Brendan Harrington didn’t have to worry about touches.

Even as he blossomed into a star Division I linebacker prospect at Northwood, he maintained a steady diet of carries and catches as a do-it-all running back for the Chargers’ offense. And he loved it.

That’s made the first seven games of Appalachian State’s 2020 football season extra special for Harrington. Not only has he emerged as an every-game starter at outside linebacker for an excellent team, but he’s picked off a team-high three passes and racked up some serious yards after the catch.

“You always love getting your hands on the ball,” Harrington, 19, told the News + Record in a phone interview last week. “Especially in college, and especially on defense.”

He showed his first flashes in the Mountaineers’ Sept. 12 home opener against Charlotte, when he intercepted a deflected 49ers pass around midfield and took off for 46 yards on his return. Four games later, he got his second interception, diving to secure another tipped ball against Louisiana Monroe.

And two weekends ago, in the first quarter against Texas State, it all came together.

Harrington played a flat zone coverage, baited the Bobcats’ quarterback into a throw, jumped the route from below, spun around, broke a tackle and followed a convoy of teammates down the left sideline and into the end zone for a 49-yard go-ahead pick-six — the first touchdown of his college career.

Add in his 23 tackles, five pass breakups and seven starts, and this much is clear: the 2018 Northwood graduate isn’t the sole reason the 6-1 Mountaineers are surging, but he’s absolutely one of them.

“He’s one of the most productive players on our football team as far as stops, interceptions, tackles for loss, sacks,” App State head coach Shawn Clark said. “He’s all the right things.”

Perhaps more impressively, Harrington’s doing it as a relative rookie. He played in 11 games as a true freshman in 2019, but he contributed almost exclusively to special teams as two seniors — future NFL fourth-round pick Akeem Davis-Gaither and Noel Cook — held down the team’s outside linebacker spots.

So, yes, he can understand why some are surprised at his semi-rapid rise to relevance at one of the country’s top Group of Five football programs. Heck, if you had told a freshman Harrington last fall what he’d be doing now as a sophomore, “I’d be shocked, too,” he said with a laugh.

“But,” he added, “I pride myself on being a student of the game.”

In other words: some of his interceptions have been improbable, but Harrington didn’t just walk into him. His being in the right place at the right time is less sheer luck and more an amalgamation of two years of growth and preparation within App State’s practice fields, weight rooms and film rooms.

“There was never a doubt in my mind,” said Brian Harrington, Brendan’s uncle and the former football coach at Northwood. “Not one time. Even when he was sad and doubtful, I said: ‘You’ve just got to trust it. Things will work out in your favor.’ I just knew if he got out on the field, he’d show them.”

If anyone can speak definitively on Brendan’s intrinsic motivations, it’s Brian.

His younger sister, LaKisha Harrington, is Brendan’s mother — and since Brendan’s biological father has never been present in his life, Brian gladly embraced parenting duties for his nephew from the start. He may as well have been a father; Brendan and B.J., Brian’s oldest child, may as well have been brothers.

By the time Brian succeeded the legendary Bill Hall as Northwood’s head football coach in 2015, and Brendan made the varsity roster as a freshman, the Harringtons already had an unbreakable bond.

But to avoid any appearance of favoritism, Brian was “very hard” on his nephew as a coach, he said. Especially so during Brendan’s freshman year, when he was a talented yet raw defensive back.

“I definitely had to prove to him that I was worthy of being on the varsity team and worthy of holding the varsity spot,” Brendan said. “We bumped heads a lot, but it was for the good.”

As Brendan literally grew into his current position — he put on around 20 pounds of muscle as he moved from DB to safety to linebacker — Brian gave him more free reign over defensive play-calling. After all, the only person in the Northwood program who watched more film than Brendan was Brian himself.

“And there were times where he even made me look good,” Brian said, laughing, “because I called the wrong coverage, he fixed it, got an interception and life was good.”

That cerebral knack has served Brendan (a one-time UNC commit) well at App State, where he plays a hybrid position that Clark, his head coach, describes as one of the most important in the Mountaineers’ base defense.

On any given play, Harrington — a fluid athlete at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds — could be blitzing, sitting in a zone or picking up a receiver or tight end in man-to-man coverage (no small task in this air-raid era).

“It’s a little bit of everything,” he said.

And so far this season, Harrington’s been doing a little bit of everything pretty well.

Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at cfowler@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.

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