It's amazing that there even is an "On the Mat" feature with Shawn Harris this year. After suffering a neck injury prior to the start of last season, Harris was not sure he would even wrestle again. Yet after redshirting the 2008-09 campaign and shaking off the rust to start this year, Harris is rounding into top form. He is slated to return to the Virginia lineup this weekend in time for the No. 23 Cavaliers' matchup with No. 10 Maryland at 1 p.m. Saturday at Mem Gym. He spoke with VirginiaSports.com about the big Maryland match, his neck injury and the ups and downs of his rehab.
Talk about the Maryland match and getting back into the lineup.
Harris: I feel like it's just an awesome time to come back. Maryland's a big rival, especially after the last two ACC tournaments (which Maryland won by two points over UVa both times). It's going to be a great meet.
What have you been doing the last few weeks during the recertification process (going from 157 pounds back down to 149)?
Harris: I've been traveling with the team and getting in workouts. I've been trying to just be around the team and be part of things. I was close to making weight last week, but I didn't so I had to wait an extra week.
You had a great win in your last weekend of competition against North Carolina (against nationally-ranked Thomas Scotton).
Harris: That was a good win, but then the next day I lost. That's one interesting thing about wrestling. Anyone can beat anyone at any time. You've got to be ready every time and you can't get too high after a win or too low after a loss.
What was last year like dealing with your neck injury and redshirting?
Harris: It was one of the worst years of my life, if not the worst. I think a lot of college athletes identify themselves so much with the sport they do, and imagining a life without wrestling, I can't do it. I talked a lot with my coaches, my dad and my teammates to get some support and to help me put it in perspective. In my mind, I knew I was coming back and every day I had that mindset. I just tried to make myself a better wrestler and person every day.
Talk about what specifically was wrong.
Harris: I had a bulging disk in my back and a bulging disk can affect your nerves. I lost all function in my arm, so I was pretty much paralyzed for four months and I had to rehab that. On top of that, there was a lot of other stuff they found and it was kind of scary, but I just had to take it day by day. I got through it and I think I'm better for it now.
Was the initial diagnosis a lot worse than what it turned out to be?
Harris: At first they thought I would never wrestle again. Everyone who saw me said I should just rehab like crazy and it worked out for the best.
How do you put that behind you?
Harris: I guess it did change a few things in my style. I don't do as many rolls any more and I'm a little more protective. In the beginning of the year, I was struggling. I was losing matches to kids I shouldn't have been losing to. I think that was one of the things that changed, just getting used to using my neck again. It took me awhile to get used to being able to go seven or eight minutes.
Do you feel good about where you are now?
Harris: Definitely. On the other hand, there's still this week and two more weeks until ACCs and another five weeks until NCAAs. That's a long time, so I still have a lot to work on and I'm planning on doing that.
Can you talk about the rivalry with Maryland?
Harris: They're obviously a tough team. They're ranked ahead of us and when you wrestle a team like that, it makes things that much more exciting. We're going to be the underdog and have something to prove, but I think this year we can definitely do it if everyone wrestles well.
Food: Ice cream
Spot on Grounds: Alderman
Wrestling memory: The win over Thomas Scotton (of UNC). That was pretty big for me. That was really cool.
Class: EDLF 101.
TV show: Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office
Music: Pretty much everything
Sports team: Anything Cleveland, particularly the Cavaliers.