Northwestern defensive back Matthew Harris has decided to end his football career, the team announced Monday.
Injured in the second game of the season, the senior Wildcat was still in the concussion protocol as of last week when he made the decision, and has suffered multiple injuries that have knocked him out of games throughout his time in Evanston.
“This is an incredibly difficult decision to reach, but it is the right one for me and for my future,” Harris said in the announcement. "I'm so thankful for (head coach Pat) Fitzgerald, (defensive backs coach Jerry) Brown and the rest of the staff that brought me to Northwestern and have mentored me over the last several years.
“My teammates are like brothers, and while not being on the field with them has been frustrating and challenging, I'm so proud of the group and what we've helped build together. I owe thanks to our athletic training and sports medicine staffs, whose care throughout my Wildcats career has been outstanding.
“Finally and most importantly, I can never appropriately express the love and gratitude I have for my family, which has supported me on every step of this journey and will continue to for years to come.
“There are few things I love more than playing the game of football, and the game has provided me with so many opportunities, including the chance to attend this university. It has been a blessing to be a part of this community and learn so many lessons. Northwestern has given me so much, I look forward to taking full advantage of my chance to give back to the world around me in the future.”
A team captain this season, Harris was a stellar player, earning All-Big Ten honors last season. In his career, he recorded 161 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions and three forced fumbles in 37 games.
Harris, a native of La Grange Highlands and product of Lyons Township High School, earned praise from Fitzgerald and his teammates Monday, who talked glowingly about his character and involvement in the community, as well as his involvement in Northwestern and Big Ten athletics. This past summer, he created a multi-day program for underprivileged young men in Evanston. Harris is also one of the heads of Northwestern’s student-athlete advisory committee and serves on the Big Ten’s student-athlete advisory committee.
“It’s been a long road for Matthew from a standpoint of injuries,” Fitzgerald said during his weekly press conference Monday. “As we sat there and looked at not only the right now, but I talked to him and said, ‘I want to think about what it’s going to be like to be 42. Put yourself in my shoes and have three kids. Where do you want your life to be not knowing a lot but what you can control?’ And so I think he put great thought into it. I know he’s a man of faith, and I think he put his trust in that and relied heavily upon his family and our doctors. I fully support his decision. I think it’s the right thing for the short term and long term.
“Very thankful for what Matthew brought to our program. A young man that from the minute he stepped into our program was an instant impact as far as a person. Just a terrific, terrific young man, a great attitude, an amazing work ethic. And then his play speaks for itself. He was such a great teammate, giving of himself for everyone on the squad. The team gave him a standing ovation this morning when he announced it to the team, which I think shows you the impact that Matthew not only has had on our team but will continue to have on our team.
“He’s in great spirits. He actually made the decision last week. He didn’t want to have a distraction from the team late in the week. That just shows you who he is. He’s a special guy.”