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Even keel, high-powered motor lift Harrison

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Sunday, Sept. 9, 2007

Stand beside Steelers right outside linebacker James Harrison and it's easy to understand why all 32 teams passed on him in the NFL draft.

Forget the generous 6-foot listing in the team's media guide. Harrison is 5-10, give or take an inch.

"Too short,'' was the scouts' battle cry regarding Harrison going undrafted. As if that justifies all 32 teams passing on a perfectly good football player.

He is what they call a physical specimen, all 242 evenly-distributed pounds of him. He looks like he's been lifting weights since kindergarten. His upper body ripples with muscles.

Observe Harrison explode to the ball-carrier, wrap up and tackle with the impact of a seven on the richter scale, and you want to place dunce caps on those scouts who overlook the size of a player's heart.

Even the Steelers didn't know what to do with Harrison after signing him as an undrafted free agent in 2002. They released him three times before deciding to keep him.

A few days ago, Harrison stood in front of his locker at the Steelers practice facility and recited why he isn't the least bit miffed about going undrafted.

"I'm where I'm at right now. Whatever path I took to get here, that really doesn't matter,'' Harrison said.

Harrison is asked again, more directly this time, if he uses anger about being overlooked in the draft and then released three times within a year as motivation.

"I don't need to use that as fuel because I'm sure there's thousands of other people out there that went through the same situation or something similar in a different field and perservered,'' Harrison said.

Man-to-man, James. Coming from Kent State, where you had 15 sacks and finished third in the Mid-American Conference's defensive player of the year voting as a senior, you never felt the urge to tell those scouts that you were right and they were wrong?

Harrison has the answer for that: "Of course, early, just the fact that you were an undrafted free agent and after getting cut, what, three times, you finally stick. After that, it was just a point of how much I need to do to try to get a starting position.''

Ironically, Harrison's first NFL start was in 2004 against the Cleveland Browns. He was an emergency replacement for Joey Porter, who was ejected because of a pre-game brawl with running back William Green. Harrison finished with six tackles and a quarterback hurry in the Steelers' 24-10 victory.

Say hello to Porter's permanent replacement. Harrison makes his second career start against the Browns on the road in today's 2007 opener.

Harrison -- a converted Steelers fan who grew up a "die-hard'' Browns fan in nearby Akron -- received acclaim during the 2005 season when he picked up and body-slammed a man who wandered on the field during the Steelers' 41-0 win in Cleveland.

"I felt like he was a threat,'' Harrison said. "He was a Browns fan. He's probably drunk and mad. I didn't know what he was going to do."

There's something about playing in Cleveland that brings out the best in Harrison.

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