What’s happened to Brigham Harwell?

It’s not just about blowing games for Karl Dorrell, it’s about blowing careers, too.

I’m not a football coach, but you don’t have to be to tell that Brigham Harwell is playing out of position at UCLA. Harwell’s senior year at Los Altos was my first year on the beat. I only got to physically cover his games twice and I got to interview him multiple times for his Player of the Year and Signing Day articles. Harwell told me before he told anyone that he was going to UCLA. Fox Sports Net showed up at 8 a.m. at Los Altos to get footage of Harwell deciding between UCLA and Arizona State on the morning of Signing Day. But, Harwell had told me before any media outlet that he was going to UCLA. It was in that morning’s paper hours before he decided to let LA’s mainstream media know.

That’s the best scoop I’ve ever had. He did it because the Tribune had given him great coverage and he was thankful. Also because coach Greg Gano is a class act. FSN wasn’t happy about the leak, but who cares? I liked Harwell, just like anybody who meets him does. He remains the best, most dominant defensive player I’ve ever seen in high school. For those reasons, and because I have a signed UCLA helmet from him as a token of appreciation, I am a huge fan of his. These days, however, I am a disgusted fan of his.

Harwell left high school as one of top prospects in the nation. The SGV has had big time recruits before, but nothing recently like Harwell. He was Top 20 in the country on most lists. He was the gem of UCLA’s recruiting class and a player unlike anything Dorrell often gets. Harwell was deciding between UCLA and ASU at a time when former Sun Devils defensive end Terrell Suggs was still fresh in the minds of PAC-10 fans. He’s now a Baltimore Raven. I was excited at the prospect of seeing Harwell play in my local media market. I was excited, just like any prep sports writer, to say “I covered that guy.” I’ve heard past Trib guys talk about covering Lawrence Phillips, Daylon McCutcheon, Jason David and so on. Harwell was going to be my guy.

Then, he arrived at UCLA. Then he got moved inside for some stupid reason. A finesse, pass rushing defensive end that dubbed himself (and I wrote it) “The Sackmaster” was moved inside. Not only is Harwell not big enough to play inside, his remarkable speed isn’t best utilized inside. Most schools prefer 320-pounders plugging up the middle. UCLA prefers a 275-pounder, who had to gain weight to get there, not lose it (as most interior linemen do).

Harwell has had his moments at UCLA, but it hasn’t been what it should’ve been. He hasn’t turned into the next Dwight Freeney or Terrell Suggs. Instead, he’s suffered through some injuries, some of which might be because he’s out of position. He’s suffered through playing a position that he splits time at. He’s suffered through Dorrell and staff making it so that one of the country’s former top recruits hasn’t matriculated into being the dominant force he could’ve been.

In a QB-happy conference like the PAC-1O, wouldn’t a speed rusher off of the edge be ideal for a defense? I wonder what might have happened to Harwell had he chosen ASU. Maybe they would’ve never tinkered with his position. Maybe he’d be considering leaving early after this season. Maybe he’d be the next Terrell Suggs.

Makes me sick!

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