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A Conversation with Spartan Football Director of Player Engagement Darien Harris

Darien Harris

Darien Harris is director of player engagement for Spartan Football. Harris is a former Michigan State student athlete and football player. He talks about his role with Spartans Athletic Director Bill Beekman in this episode of the MSU Today podcast.

Harris talks about what attracted him to MSU and about some his favorite moments on the football field. And he describes his role as the first director of player engagement for Spartan Football.

“It's a position centered around player development, and basically player development is everything off the field that we do with our student athletes,” Harris tells Beekman. “And that spans a wide range of activities, especially with name, image and likeness (NIL) coming out this year and everything that entails for a student athlete. From Coach Tucker's lead on down, we believe in developing the entire holistic student athlete. That means your academic career and your athletic career, but also your social career and your mental and spiritual side as well. So developing all of that. I get to touch the academics, the social, the mental, the spiritual, the branding, all of that.”

Harris talks about the Overtime Program and tries to describe a typical day in the life of a director of player engagement and says the days he gets to spend with student athletes are the best days. He also talks about Coach Tucker’s “relentless” approach to everything he does.

“His work ethic is off the charts, and he makes you want to work harder. It's similar to what you see from your best player on your team. Hopefully, your team captain, whoever it is, the hardest worker and you want to emulate what they're doing. I feel the same way about Coach Tucker. The veracity and relentless nature, to use his word, in which he works is something that motivates me every single day. And I think also the beauty of working under him, working for him, is that he's not a micromanager. So if you have an idea, if you have something you want to do, something you want to facilitate, he's going to let you do it.

“If he has something that he thinks that you're better suited to do, he's going to say, ‘Hey, I need you to get this task done and go ahead and execute it.’ He's not going to continue to check in and make sure you're doing it a certain way. He trusts his people to get the work done. And that's why I think we have such a great staff. I love working with him and learning from him. His career path is stellar; it speaks for itself. Whether it's being the youngest coordinator in the SEC or the youngest coordinator in Cleveland Brown's history, or obviously the 10 years he spent in NFL, to two national titles. I mean, you can't get that anywhere in terms of that wealth of knowledge and what he's seen. I love learning from him day in and day out. I love working for him and just want to continue to learn from him.”

Harris talks about how his undergraduate degree in journalism and graduate degree in marketing impact how he does his work. Journalism taught him how to be diligent in looking for information to share with the players.

Marketing is everything, whether it's in recruiting or how are we market our program. Marketing is key in how we market the program to donors and make sure they know what we're doing so they want to give back.”

Harris talks about what he’s learning from the players and the challenges and opportunities social media present for student athletes.

“That word opportunity is the key. NIL is a chance for our student athletes to experiment in ways that student athletes have never been able to experiment with before. They have to think bigger picture than just social media, advertisements, endorsements, pay for posts, and those types of things. And all that stuff is great. And it's awesome. And you can see a lot of our student athletes, whether it's football or other sports, they're starting to tap into that now. And I love just sitting back because we can’t facilitate anything. I love just sitting back and watching them take advantage of this and navigate the space and become businessmen and women. It's great to watch.

“Most student athletes are thinking short term now, which they should, because student athletes have never seen anything like this before. Eventually somebody's going to break through that door and be a trailblazer. I'm hopeful that the first to really do that comes from Michigan State. I think we have some very innovative student athletes. I think we put them in position with the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to learn how to navigate that space of being an entrepreneur, being a businessman, being a businesswoman, figuring that out, and navigating that space. Some of our student athletes are going to really take advantage of that space in a different way than I think a lot of people are thinking about now and really make a breakthrough there.”

MSU Today airs Sunday mornings at 9:00 on 105.1 FM and AM 870 and streams at WKAR.org. Find “MSU Today with Russ White” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your shows.

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