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Football: North alum Harris Roberts starts senior season at Furman with strange matchup
North Forsyth alum Harris Roberts, pictured above in a game against North Carolina State in 2017, is currently attending Clemson to finish an engineering degree and could start for Furman against the Tigers on Saturday. Photo courtesy Furman University.

Harris Roberts is a car buff.

When the former North Forsyth quarterback went off to college in 2014, he had his eye on a 1967 Ford Mustang, but his father, Brian Roberts, decided to get him something a little more reliable and current: a white Dodge Challenger with charcoal gray racing stripes.

In hindsight, that may have been the best decision, as he gets a lot of use out of his set of wheels. Every weekday morning during the football season, Roberts, a mechanical engineering major, makes a 30-mile trek down US Highway 123 to Clemson University for class. In the afternoon, he makes the same trip the other way to Greenville, S.C. in time for football practice — at Furman University.

“It's probably farther than most people think,” Harris Roberts said. “It's probably 40, 45 minutes. It's almost like living two separate lives. It's weird.”

Harris’ arrangement is not one that’s seen often in college sports in general. And for Furman’s season opener on Saturday, the Paladins will make the trip to Death Valley to face Clemson, giving Roberts a chance to play against the school he currently attends.

“I didn't expect it,” Roberts said. “I forget which year I found out we were playing Clemson that fifth year and it kind of dawned on me, like ‘Wow, that's going to be weird that I'm taking classes at that school and then playing against them on the field.’ It's going to be a really unique and cool opportunity.”

During his senior year at North, Roberts was performing well on the field and in the classroom. He eventually graduated high school as the salutatorian, and his academics opened up opportunities at schools like Princeton.

Roberts broke his collarbone in the sixth week of the season, though, throwing a wrench into his recruitment process. While looking at colleges, Furman briefly came up as an option after he attended a camp there, but the Paladins had already offered four quarterbacks and said it was unlikely they would offer him.

Right when Roberts was about to commit to a smaller program, a chance to play Division I football suddenly reappeared. Furman had disappeared from conversations about his football future, but on the night of the Raiders’ football banquet, Robert received a voicemail from the Paladins’ offensive coordinator.

Roberts soon accepted Furman’s offer, although there was one issue: The school didn’t offer an engineering major. Going in, he knew at some point he would have to go elsewhere to attain that kind of degree.

Furman’s dual-degree program allows students to finish certain degrees at other institutions, including Georgia Tech, or in Roberts’ case, Clemson. The offer from Furman was Roberts’ only chance to play in Division I, so he made the best of the situation, majoring in pre-engineering for his first degree.

“We had one of the first guys that did (the dual-degree program) when I was a player here,” Furman head coach Clay Hendrix said. “We've had a number of kids do that program, (but) I'm not sure if we've played that school while that was going on. In this case, (Harris) being a quarterback probably brings some more intrigue to it.”

During his redshirt freshman year at Furman, Roberts was part of the scout team, but in recent years, he’s seen more action. In 2016, he made his college debut against East Tennessee State, and last season, he saw time in all of the Paladins’ 13 games as a PAT holder and the backup to starting quarterback PJ Blazejowski.

For the most part, Roberts’ commute to Clemson is close enough to be manageable, but a few conflicts have arisen.

“Really, the only problem we saw was (that) there was a little bit of a conflict in the spring sometimes,” Hendrix said. “He may be a little late for meetings. It's usually not a problem where he's gone all afternoon.”

In the classroom at Clemson, students and professors are often perplexed and intrigued by his arrangement.

“It's usually kind of the same response every time,” Harris Roberts said. “They're kind of surprised, and then they ask me how I manage it all together and how cool (it's) going to be to be able to play against Clemson.”

Roberts is currently in competition for Furman’s starting quarterback job, which is coming down to the wire. He injured his thumb in practice last week, but has participated in full practice since. If he wins out, he will revel in the opportunity to play on such a big stage in a way not many others can say they have.

“It would be unbelievable, just to play in a stadium that big in front of a huge audience,” Roberts said. “I'm sure the heart would be pounding, the adrenaline would be flowing. It would be such an awesome experience.”