- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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BLACKSBURG, Va., -- Victor "Macho" Harris gently touched the dark ink tattooed on the underside of his left forearm, and the splotches of lighter, scarred skin above it.
Almost four years have passed since they both became part of him forever.
"You probably heard the story," he said, "didn't you?"
Many have, but each time he tells it, it's still unfathomable.
When he was a senior in high school, Harris was severely burned while putting out a grease fire in the kitchen. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, who also had been burned while trying to put out a grease fire when he was young, was there recruiting Harris that afternoon and went to the hospital with Harris and his family. Ten days later -- on Christmas Day, 2004 -- Harris' mother, Maritza, died of a brain aneurism. Her image is tattooed on his forearm, right below where the oil for her famous french fries had splashed and singed him.
"In high school, before I got burned, everything was going well for me," Harris said. "I was breaking records in high school -- I'm talking big games, week-in, week-out hype. I felt like I was on top of the mountain, and then, when all this stuff happened, it was like the mountain was on top of me."
Consider the mountain moved.
Entering his senior season, Harris is once again worthy of some hype. He turned down the NFL draft to return to Virginia Tech, and this spring, Harris proved he is capable of helping the Hokies in all three phases of the game -- as a cornerback, a punt returner and a receiver. With All-American Brandon Flowers gone for the NFL, Harris is now his replacement at boundary corner. With flanker Eddie Royal gone, Harris could be the top return man (he took a kickoff back 100 yards for a TD against Clemson last season). And with all four starting receivers gone, there's a good possibility Harris could be a playmaker on offense as well. He spent the first six spring practices at wide receiver.
After going against Harris a few times this spring, free safety Kam Chancellor smiled when he said, "Yes, I do prefer him to stay on my side."
Despite his NFL potential as a corner, it's impossible to separate "Macho" the football player (a nickname his dad gave him when he was an infant) from the "Mama's Boy" he has tattooed on the right side of his neck. All of it -- words about his faith, his family, the game and his scars -- are etched into his skin for everyone to see and have helped define him on Saturdays.
"I feel like playing football, you have to play with a lot of emotion," said Harris, one of eight children. "I don't want to say I turn that emotion into anger on the field, because it's not. I love playing the game. I respect the game. I don't do nothing dirty, but I play with a chip on my shoulder. On that field I could just let my emotions go. I could just let it go."
Because Beamer was there with Harris during that tragic time, they're closer than most players and coaches on a roster of more than 100. Beamer had promised Harris when he recruited him that he would get an opportunity to play both sides of the ball. They tried it his freshman year at tailback -- where Harris excelled in high school -- but there was too much talent ahead of him on the depth chart. This season would be the perfect time to sneak him in as a receiver.
"Part of that is fulfilling my word, but the other part of it is we certainly had a need," Beamer said. "I probably would've done it before, but we've had four senior receivers here the last few years, and it would've been hard to get him playing time. Now, the situation fits. I'm fulfilling my promise to him, but at the same time he's one of the better receivers we've got on this football team right now."
Beamer said he'd like to narrow his choices down to about six receivers, and two former quarterbacks -- Cory Holt and Ike Whitaker -- are among the candidates, along with Zach Luckett and Brandon Dillard, a walk-on who caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Sean Glennon in Saturday's spring game.
Harris, who made five interceptions last year, said he wants to be the kind of player he chooses to put in when he's playing Madden video games.
"We've got good receivers who are capable of getting the job done," he said. "That's no problem at all. I want to come in there and just You want to have that player who throws the whole game off. You put him in at a time when you've got the other opponent on his heels. I kinda want to be like that guy; just throw them off a little bit."
During the first part of spring practices, Harris was only a receiver and attended meetings with the offense. Then he switched back to concentrate on defense. During the final week of spring practices, he played both.
"The things I've noticed about him is he's a guy who can control his body, he can run good routes, he can get in and out of a break," said receivers coach Kevin Sherman. "The thing I was surprised by him was his ball skills. You don't see it a whole lot from DBs because they don't catch a lot of balls, but at the receiver position I think it comes natural to him, that he can just pluck the ball out of the sky just naturally.
"We threw the whole offense at him so it's kind of been a struggle for him at times, but I think once we narrow our game plan then we'll discuss how we want to utilize him this fall. We don't know how much that's going to be but it will always be a conversation that will come up. But we feel like we know he can help our football team."
Virginia Tech, in turn, has also helped Harris.
"I think the fact somebody loses his mother and you're right there in that whole process. I want things to turn out good for Macho," Beamer said. "He's talented enough, I just want things to turn out right for him."
The artwork on Harris' biceps leads you to believe he's confident it will:
"You can't stop my shine; it's God's plan not mine."
"I believe in God," Harris said. "I feel blessed to be put in this position."
Words that four years ago seemed unfathomable.
Heather Dinich is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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