Most people get baptized at church, but Mister Harriel chose a different sanctuary.
The 6-foot-1 free safety immersed himself in gallons of water at Hornet Stadium with help from former Sacramento State and San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Otis Amey two years ago.
Harriel felt he needed to be closer to God after struggling to find his place with the Hornets.
“After getting baptized I felt my life change,” Harriel, now 21, said recently. “I felt myself become closer to God and I found myself happy. I really didn’t have any worries; everything just started falling into place.”
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The next season, Harriel earned first-team All-Big Sky Conference honors after leading Sac State with 87 tackles and finishing second on the team with three interceptions. He enters his senior campaign as a Football Championship Subdivision preseason All-American according to Street & Smith and STATS.
“When he first got here, we didn’t have a ton of talent and I didn’t know where to play him because he did everything really well,” said Jody Sears, the Hornets’ coach. “Shoot, we had him at receiver, running back and safety, but I’m very proud of the way he’s developed and the kind of player that he’s evolved into.
“Obviously, he’s gotten some preseason accolades, but we definitely aren’t going to let him get too comfortable.”
Prior to the baptism, the Sacramento native and Antelope High School product was anything but cozy in his hometown.
Harriel had his redshirt taken away as a freshman after multiple injuries to running backs forced him into action. Despite being upset, he competed in four of the last five games and ended the season with 23 carries for 55 rushing yards.
“He didn’t get a lot of carries back then, but he got a sweep up the sideline for one of his first runs and he tried to hurdle over somebody, and I knew that guy was a dog and fearless since then,” said Dre Terrell, a senior cornerback.
After finding some familiarity in the backfield, Harriel was moved to wide receiver for his sophomore year. But two weeks before the season, he was switched to defensive back and asked to learn the playbook for a different side of the ball after an injury to a teammate.
He could’ve grown resentful of his decision as a high school recruit to choose Sac State over an offer from Big Sky rival Weber State, but he remembered what his father, also named Mister, told him when he was younger.
“My dad brought it across to me that Sacramento hasn’t had any national championships,” Harriel said. “He told me, ‘You can be one of the ones who can change that and help put Sacramento on the map.’ And that stuck with me being from here, and I wanted that to actually happen. I wanted us to be able to have a parade and win a national championship.”
So he woke up early for almost an entire week and drove from his home in Antelope to Hornet Stadium to study the defensive playbook with defensive coordinator Samuel Lawanson at 3 a.m. in his office.
The hard work paid off and Harriel’s now found a home at safety despite the challenges of the position.
“He’s the last line of defense, so he has to know where everyone is and what’s going on in front of him,” Terrell said. “He has a big responsibility on his hands to keep everybody accounted for, and he took it head on, and he gets everybody on this defense going.”
Harriel, nicknamed “Showtime” by his teammates, has even been getting a little attention from NFL scouts as he enters his final season, according to Brian Berger, Sacramento State’s assistant athletic director.
Harriel said he molds his game after former and current NFL standouts Charles Woodson, Ed Reed and Tyrann Mathieu.
“They’re real ballhawks, but at the same time, they’ll tackle you and strip you and they’re just playmakers,” Harriel said. “And that’s what I want to be known as, the guy who makes the plays when it matters.”