some fascinating background stuff on James...
Pittsburgh -- Steelers linebacker James Harrison wishes everybody would just leave him alone.
Since his unbelievable performance in Pittsburgh's 38-7 victory over the Baltimore Ravens on "Monday Night Football," which earned him AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors, droves of reporters have been approaching him for interviews at every opportunity.
"Y'all bugging me," he told the crowd around his locker Thursday afternoon as the Steelers prepared to host the Browns on Sunday. "I'm getting a little tired of that."
After most of the reporters drifted away, he admitted, "All this attention makes me very uncomfortable."
When a player has 3½ sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one interception and nine tackles in one game, the attention is inevitable. Of course, that doesn't make it any easier for a private person such as Harrison.
The Akron native who attended Coventry High School and Kent State would like to put it all behind him.
In fact, when his mother was watching replays of the game at his house earlier this week, Harrison complained because he wanted to watch cartoons instead.
"I've seen stuff here and there, but I don't sit there and admire the work," Harrison said.
"It was one game, one week, and right now we're focused on Cleveland. I don't care what happened last week. We're trying to get ready for this week."
The attention has trickled down all the way from Pittsburgh to Akron. Everybody - from his mother Mildred to his former high school coach Mo Tipton to his former athletic director Jon Hibian - has been doing interviews.
"I've spent the past two days answering questions about James," said Hibian, now Coventry's principal.
Mildred Harrison, who attended the game, watched the power bars on her cell phone disappear as relatives and friends checked in to celebrate.
Gary Hutt, Coventry's offensive coordinator who was an assistant coach when James Harrison played there, called Harrison five or six times during the game, leaving a message after every great play.
"I apologized to him later," Hutt said, laughing. "I just couldn't believe what he was doing."
Dean Pees was not surprised. Pees, who coached Harrison at Kent State and is now the defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, knew Harrison had it in him all along, even if not all of the pro scouts agreed.
"Everybody who came to see him play liked him, but they all thought he was too short at 6 feet," Pees said. "I don't know how tall you've got to be. I think he's a good football player. He's fast, tough, intense, smart. He plays on his feet, doesn't get knocked down very much. I don't know what else you'd want."
Pees wanted more than Harrison's talent, though. He wanted his commitment.
Harrison had already enrolled at Kent State by the time Pees was hired in late 1997, and Harrison's football future was at a crossroads. The youngest in James and Mildred Harrison's blended family of 14 children, Harrison had been a star from the moment he started playing Pee Wee football at the age of 8. When legendary Orrville coach Mo Tipton was hired at Archbishop Hoban, James Harrison Sr. took his son to the school and told Tipton that he wanted his son to play for him. The incoming freshman made quite a first impression by leveling a star senior during a one-on-one drill the first day.
A year later, Tipton agreed to help rebuild the Coventry football program, and Harrison followed and excelled as a running back, linebacker and punter.
Off the field, life wasn't always easy. As one of a handful of African-American students in his school and conference, Harrison endured taunts and didn't always react well. He made some poor decisions, one of which cost him the final game of his senior season, and was involved in what Hibian referred to as "pranks," including a much-publicized incident in which he shot a BB gun and injured a classmate.
Asked how he would describe his high school days, Harrison paused for a moment and said: "Everything happens for a reason. It was what it was. It wasn't a great situation. It wasn't a real bad situation. Some things happened that you just had to deal with. Some decisions I made I had to live with. Everything that happens to you makes you who you are. It's either going to make you a better person or worse.
"Fortunately for me, it made me better."
Not immediately. The hijinks probably cost him a chance for a scholarship at big schools such as Nebraska and Ohio State, so he walked on at Kent State. When Pees met Harrison, the coach told him he would have to work a lot harder and rededicate himself to football and athletics.
"To his credit, he came around," Pees said. "By his senior year he was captain of the team, which was quite an accomplishment coming from where we started."
Pees recalls the final game of the 2001 season, against Ben Roethlisberger and Miami of Ohio. Kent was 5-5, trying to finish with a winning record for the first time in ages. The Golden Flashes had a 24-20 lead, but Miami had the ball and was driving with about 20 seconds left.
Pees took a timeout and told Harrison to rush off the left side.
"I told him the whole season was riding on that play - and him," Pees recalled. "He sacked Roethlisberger before he even had the ball up to his waist."
Harrison held on, and so did Kent.
It has taken some time for Harrison to be able to showcase those talents again. Undrafted coming out of college, he was signed and cut twice by the Steelers and once by the Baltimore Ravens, who sent him to play with Dusseldorf in NFL Europe.
He was picked up by the Steelers at the start of training camp in 2004 and has played as a backup and on special teams, moving into the starting lineup this year after Joey Porter's departure to the Dolphins.
Harrison finally burst into the spotlight Monday night in a game that won't soon be forgotten - no matter how much he'd like it to be.
"Nobody really knew he could play as good as he did Monday," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. "But now he let the cat out of the bag, and that's what we're going to look for every week.