In just a single season, Castleton’s Moe Harris emerged as one the ECFC’s premier running backs.
As a freshman, Harris finished second in the league in rushing yards with 1,065, and touchdowns with 14, announcing his presence to the rest of the league. In doing so Harris claimed ECFC Rookie of the Week honors seven times in 2015 including five straight Rookie of the Week honors.
But his football story pales in comparison to his life story, which saw him leave home at 15 to live with a surrogate family. The fact that he’s playing football in college, or the fact that he’s even attending college, is a bit of miracle.
Harris first started playing football in the fifth grade at the guard position. In seventh grade, he switched to running back – and then the heads started turning.
Although Harris always gravitated toward the football field, when he reached high school, football became more than just a game. It was his escape.
“Through the years I saw him using football as his outlet,” said Lisa Sabato.
Insert “Ms. Lisa.”
Sabato is a stay at home mom with three children from Pine Hill, New Jersey, Harris’ hometown.
“It was a beautiful thing to watch,” Sabato said about watching Harris become the football player he is today.
She and Harris met when she was a lunch aid while he was in the fifth grade. Through “Ms. Lisa,” as Harris calls her, he developed a close friendship with her son, Eriq. The friendship grew into a brotherhood and eventually Harris was spending most nights of the week at the Sabato house.
When he was 15, following a “huge disagreement” with his father, Harris moved in with Ms. Lisa and her family. Now, with four kids in a two-bedroom townhouse, Ms.Lisa knew it was going to be tough – And so did Harris and Eriq.
Both of them would get jobs each summer to help pay bills and support the family. Ms. Lisa would pick up catering jobs throughout the year to contribute as well.
Her main concern, however, was for her family. Now with an even fuller house, she knew it was going to be a tight squeeze. Ms. Lisa now sleeps in the living room. Knowing that teenage boys need their space and privacy, she decided to give them her room.
“It wasn’t even a question,” Ms. Lisa said. “It was a struggle, but I wouldn’t change it.”
Harris still returns to live with Ms. Lisa on breaks from school and refers to her as “Mom.”
“When he’s here, he is Mr. funny man,” said Ms. Lisa
Whether it’s cracking jokes, acting goofy or dancing around, Ms. Lisa said Harris is always trying to lift people’s mood.
“He’s a clown,” shouted linebacker Joel Antoine from the couch.
But not always, other teammates say.
“He’s quiet,” added wide receiver Makai Hawkins, staring at the TV playing a game of Madden 17.
Teammates say Harris is harmless off the field, but on the field it’s a different story, adding another dimension to their offense.
“When you have someone like Moe, the first 1,000-yard rusher in Castleton history, we can not only base our offense around Soren (Pelz-Walsh), one of our best receivers, but now we have a dual threat running back,” said wide receiver Chris Terry, also while playing Madden 17.
And the Spartans leaned heavily on Harris in 2015 as he racked up the second most carries in the ECFC with 211.
Harris’ main goal is simple … To win.
That will and determination to succeed, he said, comes from a strong support system: his mother and father.
“My parents support me like no other,” he said.
When he was younger his father, Aclen Harris was laid off at his job as an auto mechanic when Harris was in middle school. He would pick up side jobs to ensure his family was taken care of, something Harris said he’s extremely thankful for. He added that even though his dad isn’t much of a football fan, he has made himself more available to watch Harris play at Castleton.
He remembers last season, the first time his parents saw him in a Spartans uniform. It was homecoming versus Alfred State.
“I knew I would have to put a show on for my parents because they hadn’t see me play in a while,” Harris said.
Harris took a year off from football and attended Camden County College, a junior college out of Blackwood, New Jersey.
Being away from the game for while did raise some questions.
“We weren’t really all that sure because he had been away from football for a year so there was a bit of an unknown. What kind of shape are they going to come back in? Is it going to take them a while to get ramped back up?” said Castleton Head Coach Tony Volpone. “He just really started to come into his own in the second or third week of the year and from there seemed to get better and better.”
Volpone added that Harris made it an easy decision for him to be named the starter.
“I think Moe is an explosive back that can change the momentum of a game on one play,” Volpone said. “You hope that it helps elevate all the other people in your program.”
He still remembers his stat line from that homecoming game against Alfred State (although he said stats don’t matter.)
“One-hundred-one yards on 19 carries for one touchdown,” he said with a smile on his face from ear to ear. “I felt like I was playing for them and they were there to see it.”