Lately, everybody's talking about the cleats.

Not that they've forgotten the 6 a.m. workouts and the trainers who showed up, or the sweatshirts, or the rides to practice.

Or the inspiration.

We know they haven't forgotten, because they wrote to us, 16 of them, to say Mark "Dolo" Harris should be the All-Metro Sports Awards Difference Maker for 2024.

Now he is. How are we supposed to fight a movement like that?

Harris — Dolo, as he's known — went this school year from being a familiar face around Minneapolis Henry (soon to be renamed Camden) to being a godsend, those nominations said.

Assistant football coach Rob Neumann explains: "I've been a coach for over 20 years at multiple levels, and last year was my first experience at a city school. Seeing the effort Dolo puts in to help these kids is inspiring. Last year was as much fun as I've ever had coaching, and his passion is a big part of that. Kind of relights the fire, if you get what I mean."

Zivad Robinson, a left tackle and defensive end who will be a sophomore in the fall, summed up Harris neatly: "When he yells at us, he's not mad. He's like a hype man."

Harris, 33, is a 2009 graduate of Henry. He's been shot twice. He tells stories of friends killing friends. These are stories you've heard if you follow the news, and they are a lot like other stories you've heard about north Minneapolis.

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Harris returned to Henry this school year as part of C.E.O., standing for Change Equals Opportunity, an organization partnered with the Minneapolis School District and dedicated to helping young people in north Minneapolis. It's led by Jamil Jackson, Henry's boys basketball coach.

Harris' assignment placed him in the high school five hours a day, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., this school year. Except somebody said the bus stop needed attention, so he stayed later. And somebody worried that the parking lot needed monitoring, so he stayed even later. This was fall, and football practice was going on. He knew some of the athletes.

"I see these kids playing football, and me not wanting to be bored, I go watch," he said. "They need help with drills. The kids call me down, say, 'Hey, Dolo, come help us, man.' "

Before long, Harris' ties became official, and he spent the fall helping coach the defense. In the coming fall he'll be head coach of the ninth-grade team. He's also in touch with members of the boys basketball team, guiding them to workouts and away, he hopes, from trouble.

Arrive early, stay late

He's made changes, and he's making plans. Chats about Dolo lead consistently to the 6 a.m. workouts, new at Henry, that he spearheads — "Lots of these kids have to be home to babysit after school," he said — and to his willingness to open the basketball gym after school — "I ask the kids why they don't play in the park," he said. "They say, 'We don't trust parks. That's where trouble starts.' "

His plans? This summer he's firing up a nonprofit he calls Change the Narrative, to teach young people "you can be different than how it's planned out to be," he said. There's a GoFundMe working to fund a 15-passenger van because somebody pointed a gun at his car one day when Harris was driving athletes to practice. "I want kids in a 15-passenger that has signs say this is a car full of kids, a non-threatening vehicle," he said.

Those five hours a day at school have become much more, closer to 12. People have noticed. Several of the nominations cited his long days.

Henry's football program is on an uptick, 7-2 last season. Harris said he enjoys that success, but he insists it extend to individual athletes.

"We're here in north Minneapolis, and you see what's going on in the news all day every day," he said. "That's what we're known for. Now I want to be known for sending six kids to Division I. Once you send six, they come back and help six or seven more go. That's what we're doing."

A personal investment

Now about those cleats. In the first week of June, Harris visited Play It Again Sports.

"I bought every cleat from size 8 to 14," he said. "I'm heavy on recruiting kids. A lot of parents can't afford cleats, team fees and then something else."

That purchase stands as an example of Harris' investment (often with his own money) in the students at Henry. He also has helped with dinners and other rewards for high achievers, with fees for training camps that serve as opportunities to impress college recruiters and with other equipment and apparel. He said he can afford it because of his successful entertainment company, Dolo Presents, and also because of his network.

"I'm decent in life," he said of his financial situation. "And I have a support system, business people that know what I'm doing. I say I just went to buy some cleats, and they say, 'How much you pay, Dolo?' And I say $500, and they send me $100 to help. I just want to grow that support system."

Harris describes his motivation clearly. The tone of his voice says he feels it strongly.

"I'm going to try to teach you so you don't end up in situations," he said. "I'm locking in with these kids at 14, 15, 16. I don't want to hear when they're 22, 23 they lost their life at something I've been trying to prevent."