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Saturday was a tough day for Harris and other injured Titans

He wore the top half of his jersey, No. 21.

He had the same calm demeanor on the sidelines that he has during games.

But you have to know inside, Nashua High School North football standout Curtis Harris was dying, watching his team fall to Merrimack in the Division I quarterfinals Saturday without him.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know that Harris had to sit out the huge game with a knee injury – what he revealed the other day is a sprain, no ligament tear – and the Titans are clearly different without him. He’s an instant breakaway threat on offense and a fierce tackler on defense.

“It was probably one of the hardest things in the world I’ve come across, not being able to be out there with my brothers,” he said, noting he knew probably over a week ago he wasn’t going to be able to go.

It was quite a week or two for Nashua High School North coach Dante Laurendi, who was probably asked about a thousand times, including by yours truly, about the health of Harris and his status for this past Saturday’s quarterfinal. Unusual for sure for a high school player, but this is no ordinary player, and the Titans and Harris handled it well.

“Yeah, that’s tough,” Laurendi said. “Obviously, it is what it is. It’s unfortunate we don’t have him, unfortunate for him because he wants to play. But in the same sense, I feel bad for the other guys who should be here too.

“There’s not a high school in the country who has a full roster at the end of the season with everybody that’s healthy in some way, shape or form. You do the best with what you’ve got.”

Laurendi is right, Harris wasn’t the only key Titan that missed Saturday’s game. You had to feel for explosive running back Xavier Provost, who suffered a season ending knee injury a quarter of the way through the campaign, a year after missing most of 2018 with a broken collarbone. Or linebacker/running back Donovan LaBate, who went down even earlier in the year. Or center Zach Maszczak, who got hurt about a month ago.

Part of Laurendi’s job as a coach hasn’t been to just coach the healthy players, but keep players like Harris’ spirits up. Remember, we’re still talking about a kid, and a kid who led his team for eight of nine wins in a previously unbeaten season.

“He’s been good,” he said of Harris. “He’s kind of taken a coach’s role, helping out, stepping back, watching stuff, he’s been really good, really supportive of Jayden in the quarterback role. He’s been great, he got better as the week went on spirit wise.”

It’s been the most famous knee in the Nashua area for the last couple of weeks. The good news is Harris says he’ll be able to play basketball for the Titans – he was after all the 2018-19 Telegraph Player of the Year in that sport, too.

The bad news is, so he can play hoop and still rest his knee, he likely won’t play on Thanksgiving Eve in the Turkey Bowl vs. rival Nashua South. He torched the Panthers in the regular season just like he torched the Tomahawks. It’s likel we wouldn’t have seen Harris the rest of the playoffs even if North had advanced.

“I’ll be fine by basketball,” he said.

But Saturday was a killer. He hugged some of his teammates, especially his buddy and replacement at QB, Jayden Espinal, after the game.

“Jayden playing wide receiver and playing his last two games at quarterback, only two games this season, it was obviously a tough time for him,” Harris said. “But I had faith in him.”

And why not? Espinal is a gamer, and he’ll be a lot of fun to watch on Thanksgiving Eve. But the Titans are oh, so different with the two of them – and Provost, for crying out loud – on the field together.

“Obviously not having Curtis and (Espinal) on the field (together) made things not as big of a challenge,” Merrimack coach Kip Jackson said after Saturday’s win.

But you feel for the talented athlete and good student who was itching to play. Harris probably woke up every morning the last two weeks wondering how his knee would feel that day, looking for any opening for a chance to play.

“Everyone always asked me how my knee was,” he said with a grin. “Sometimes it was stiff. It was hard. It was very emotional. It drove me nuts. Especially when I got the MRI (done) and that same day they couldn’t tell me.”

Heck, even the referees missed Harris. After Saturday’s playoff game, in the handshake line, one of them said, “Good luck with the rehab.”

Just a shame, but part of the game. North could have been hosting Exeter in a rematch of one of the best games of the season this Saturday in the semis.

Instead, Harris on the sidelines was looking at plays on an I-pad this past Saturday, and helping Espinal on reads, etc. The two will be back next season, and so will Provost and Maszczak, as all are juniors.

The greater good says Harris wasn’t going to play vs. Merrimack and he won’t vs. South. And then we’ll see next year. And beyond.

“Our future next year is going to be the same as this year,” Harris said. “It’ll be brighter. I see us making it to the championship next year.”

Harris handled this whole thing with class for a high school junior. Like we’ve said, it’s not often a high school injury draws this much attention, especially from the media.

So let’s hope for his sake we don’t have to go through it again.

Tom King may be reached at 594-1251,tking@nashuatelegraph.com, or@Telegraph _TomK.