G.T. Harraka did a brief newspaper interview during his senior year at Saint John’s Catholic Prep near Frederick, when he committed to play football for Sacred Heart.
And after that? Media blackout.
There were no interviews during his one season playing for the Pioneers, and no interviews when he transferred to Maryland after the first semester. There were no interviews during his three seasons as an invited walk-on, and no interviews when he finally received a scholarship this summer. He thought maybe the local paper would want to catch up with him when the Terps played a scrimmage in Middletown this past spring, especially since he received several dozen snaps in the game.
“I go and look on FrederickNewsPost.com – ‘Joe Riddle comes home,’ a whole article about Joe,” Harraka recalled wistfully. “And then at the end – ‘And Gary Harraka was there too.’ ”
Virtually every day this season, Harraka has checked in with one of Maryland’s PR staffers, wondering whether maybe they needed him to talk to the press.
“Nah, not today,” he was told.
“And I’m watching as they interview Stefon [Diggs] for the fifteen thousandth time,” Harraka said. “Hey, there are some other quality characters on this team.”
So fine, let’s end this thing. Let me sit down with the backup offensive lineman – he’s a regular on the field-goal and extra-point teams – and see exactly what he’s been dying to tell the world for so many years.
“To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about it,” Harraka confessed. “It was just more the fact of getting one. Just another part of living the dream.”
That’s it? Nothing else to say?
“Go Terps!” Harraka offered.
But of course, there’s more. There’s the fact that Harraka grew up a Maryland fan, attending virtually every home game for as long as he can remember. His dad played for the school in the ‘80s, and his mom was on pom squad, and his older brother played under Ralph Friedgen. His dad was even an honorary captain for Maryland years later, along with Boomer Esiason.
“I didn’t really know who he was at the time,” Harraka admitted. “I just knew he was some guy that kept roughing me up on the sidelines and telling me that I had to tackle better.”
There’s the fact that he was raised in a Guilian Gary jersey, graduating to a D’Qwell Jackson model as he grew. That when he watches the flashback montages during his own games, he recognizes moments he saw live from the stands.
There’s the fact that, without any warning, he was told at a team meeting this summer that he had earned a scholarship. He called his dad, saying he had important news, but that both parents needed to be on the phone. His dad – who was walking the dog — asked if his son was quitting the team. Then his mom called, pleading to know what was happening. Finally he told them about the scholarship — “I couldn’t hear anything, it was just a lot of shouting,” he remembered.
Then he went to 7-Eleven to celebrate with some Arnold Palmers while his roommates played Call of Duty.
There’s the fact that, after all those practices, he finally received live action this season, beginning with a field-goal attempt against Florida International.
“It was kind of like ‘Wow, this is actually happening,’ ” he recalled. “It was pure adrenaline. I don’t even know how I heard the snap.”
And that, after years of abstaining, he finally decided to jump into the Maryland student section after sprinting out of the pre-game tunnel this season.
“I’ve seen a couple scared faces as I’m approaching, but I feel like I handle it pretty well,” the 295-pound lineman said. “And it was fun, so I’ll probably keep doing that. Warn the student section.”
And there’s the fact that whether he letters, or whether the Terps go to a bowl, or whether he ever does another interview, he can’t imagine having any regrets.
“Honestly, you realize that what you’re doing is special,” he said. “It’s not something that other people get to do. It’s getting to play for the University of Maryland. What other better thing could you do?”
There’s more – how he belongs to the bowling club, how he rides his grandpa’s undersized 15-year old bicycle around campus — the bike with the crushed back wheel and the seat that’s been eaten by squirrels — how he’s studying environmental science. But every interview has to end eventually.
“It was awesome,” Harraka said, as we finished up. “I’m gonna go write in my diary about this. Dear diary: today was a good day.”