Nick Harris is a meme machine.
For the non-millennial or internet-allergic reader, Merriam-Webster defines the word “meme” as “an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media.”
There were no specific examples provided.
But that’s why we’re here.
Because on Sept. 22 of last year, ESPN posted an eight-second video on Twitter. It depicted a seemingly innocuous nonplay in which Arizona State defensive tackle George Lea was called for an utterly unremarkable 5-yard penalty. The 6-foot-2, 276-pound Sun Devil was drawn offside by Washington quarterback Jake Browning, who clapped his hands to simulate the snap and prompted Lea to plow prematurely into the Husky center.
When one play ended, another play began. The center assumed the spotlight, backpedaling 4 yards before suddenly shifting his balance. His movements were graceful, precise, like a ballet prodigy performing “Swan Lake” in a sold-out amphitheater. At the 40-yard line, brimming with bravado, the 302-pound offensive lineman lifted both arms toward the enemy, then shot his pointer fingers forward, ordering the ASU retreat.
Perhaps, if every referee could mirror his movements, coaches would cease protesting penalties.
That was it. Eight seconds. Five yards.
And, as of Thursday afternoon, 1.6 million views.
“I still get that thing sent to me,” Harris said of his handiwork this week. “It’s definitely a meme. After that game, I got back to my phone, and my phone was like frozen because so many people were sending it.”
The world saw a singularly swaggering center.
Harris’ two sisters saw their brother. Nichole Handley saw her son.
“His sisters were like, ‘Yep, that’s Nick,’” Handley said with a laugh this week. “They said, ‘What’s the big deal? That’s how Nick always acts.’
“We were used to that. He’s always been really good with his feet and likes to dance. He loves music. I guess it all kind of intertwined, and it produced Nick.”
It produced one of the best centers in the country, a once-unheralded recruit who has been starting at Washington since his freshman season in 2016. It produced the anchor to perhaps the Pac-12’s premier offensive line. It produced a rolling bowling ball with the program’s block W tattooed just above his right elbow.
It produced a gregarious 300-pound performer who, according to Handley, used to routinely compete in dance battles at parties.
He still dances. He still competes.
Only now, when he does, the world tweets.
“That’s just my personality,” said Harris, whose dancing has quickly become a UW football social media staple. “It’s not like I’m forcing it or anything. That’s just how I try to attack every day. In the grind of camp, I just try to make fun of everything. I try to put smiles on people’s faces when they’re feeling a little down and just bring energy on the field.
“That’s just my personality. It’s no fraud; it’s just me.”
Harris’ essence, his swagger — his je ne sais quoi — does not detract from his on-field performance. It complements it; it improves it. It allows a supposedly undersized 6-1 center to bury unassuming opponents under an avalanche of attitude.
“He’s … he’s hard to describe in terms of everything he brings to this locker room and this team, let alone being one of the best centers in the country,” said sixth-year UW coach Chris Petersen. “That’s only part of what he really brings to this team.
“He’s just got that infectious personality. He’s got that energy, and everybody loves energy. Everybody attracts to energy, and that’s Nick.”
That’s Nick — a self-described “big ball of energy, bouncing around.”
That’s also what the 2019 Huskies need.
“With the stage that the offense is in and the competition that we have at quarterback, I’m usually the guy that brings the energy,” Harris said. “Because Jake Browning was that guy. He always brought the energy, and we fed off of him. Since there’s a competition back there (at QB) and those guys are locked in on their competition and trying to wheel and deal and do their thing, I’ve got to be that guy to bring the energy to the offense — running around, yelling, dancing.
“On the field I’m locked in and just trying to get everybody on the ball and focused. I’ll take that. That’s my role, and I’ll run with it.”
On Tuesday, it looked like Harris ran into the wrong defensive linemen. When the senior center sauntered off the practice field, his purple jersey was fully ripped up the right side, as if he had spent two hours run-blocking a bear.
The reality was only slightly better.
“I did not do this on purpose,” he said, motioning to the dilapidated Adidas jersey. “This is the result of (Washington defensive linemen) John Clark and Levi Onwuzurike pulling on me. I hate those guys.”
UW’s resident meme machine smiled and backpedaled (again).
“Nah, I’m just kidding. I love those guys.”
The feeling is mostly mutual — just not for George Lea.