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Junkyard Dog

Posted Jan 21, 2012

Chances are, you didn’t have a backyard like Parys Haralson did growing up.

His humble house in Flora, Miss., is still looking like it did when he was a kid. Walk out the backdoor and you’ll find heaps of scrap metal, old refrigerators, old washing machines and lots of trash bins. You’ll also find the place where Haralson learned the value of a hard day’s work.

To know Haralson, you must first get to know his grandfather, Leon. At 83 years young with a deep Mississippi twang, Leon Haralson is still going strong as ever. Earlier this week, he headed north on U.S. Route 49 to nearby Bentonia for some wild boar hunting.

But it’s in his family’s backyard – which also serves as a makeshift junkyard – where Leon Haralson gave Parys his first job at 9 years old.

“I learned him how to work,” Leon Haralson said. “The junkyard – that’s where he got his start. I learned him how to get things done.”

Parys Haralson never knew his father and was raised by Leon, his grandmother, Elnora, and his mother, Jennifer Rosell. The Haralson household was a crowded one, with three generations of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and sisters joining Parys under the same roof. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Following the 49ers game on Thanksgiving in Baltimore, Haralson even had a chance to fly back to his home where it all began.

During his grade school days, Haralson would open up the back door to his grandfather’s office and get to work. Unwrapping copper wire from motors, loading up trucks with scrap metal, packing trash cans – it was the definition of blue-collar work.

On the verge of his 28th birthday, not a day goes by when Haralson doesn’t think about his grandfather and all he’s done. In all, about a dozen family members shared the same address. And Leon Haralson was the breadwinner.

“You never saw anybody like him,” Parys Haralson said. “He taught me everything; how to do things the right way.”

Leon Haralson is the definition of a self-made man. After building a reputation in the community as the scrap guy, people started bringing over their old appliances and he would break the metal down before selling it to other companies. Trash to treasure, as they say.

Though the county temporarily shut down his makeshift junkyard, the sage scrapper wouldn’t be denied.

“He started it up again somehow,” Parys Haralson said.

And just doing the job wasn’t enough for Leon Haralson. From a young age, Parys admired his grandfather’s attention to detail and unwillingness to cut corners.

“He takes pride in everything,” Parys Haralson said. “He’s got that competitive nature; he wanted to be the best he was at his job. He was a junkyard man and he feels like he always had the best scrap metal no matter what.”

Rosell also played a key role in her son’s upbringing. Just last year, Rosell finally cut her workload to one job – down from the three she held as Haralson was growing up.

With such role models, perhaps it’s no surprise Haralson has become the man he is today. While he might not garner the headlines or the spotlight, the sixth-year vet out of Tennessee has been a key part to the 49ers top-ranked rush defense.

Since leading the 49ers with 8.0 sacks during the 2008 season, Haralson has been a fixture to the defense at the starting outside linebacker spot. Along the way, he’s earned the respect of his peers and coaches, who recognize his grind-it-out attitude.

“P-Town is a guy that you can count on every play,” defensive captain Patrick Willis said. “He’s going to do his job and he’s going to come up and he’s going to hit. He’s a guy that’s going to set the edge for you no matter how big the tackles are. No matter what’s going on, you know he’s going to come down and he’s going to crush whatever’s in front of him.”

While it may not show up in the stat sheet, setting the edge on defense is half the battle. Unglamorous as it may be, Haralson has been a consistent force on holding his ground and forcing opposing running backs inside, where the All-Pro duo of Willis and NaVorro Bowman lurks, along with the rest of the 49ers defense.

During his time in San Francisco, Haralson has forged strong relationships with Justin Smith and Ray McDonald. While Haralson’s 30 tackles this year might not be an eye-popping statistic, his value is known by the men who fight with him in the trenches.

“In any 3-4, it’s only as good as your outside linebackers,” Smith said. “Him on first, second down, and the success we’ve had has been huge. He doesn’t get a lot of credit, but it all starts with the outside guys and the nose guard in the 3-4. Those guys don’t get enough credit.”

Credit or not, Haralson doesn’t care. What matters is the 49ers are playing in Sunday’s NFC Championship game against the New York Giants, just 60 minutes away from the Super Bowl.

“I really don’t care,” Haralson said. “I got a job to do and I go out there and do it. If I get recognized for it, good. If not, then that’s good, too.”

It all goes back to the advice Haralson received from his grandfather once he got drafted by the 49ers in 2006.

“The first thing he told me was, ‘Just go out there and do what they tell you to,’” Haralson said.

Though unheralded, Haralson has done just that. He’s anchored the right side of the defense this year – especially in running situations – before usually handing off his duties to talented rookie pass-rusher Aldon Smith on third downs.

Being the team player he is, Haralson has helped show Aldon Smith what it means to be a professional in the NFL. The two also said they share something of a big brother-little brother relationship.

Not only has Haralson’s attitude been noticed by youngsters like Aldon Smith, but also by the coaching staff.

“He approaches his job very well,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “He’s a pro in every way. He does a good job of running the scheme and understanding his jobs and plays hard and tough.”

On Sunday, Haralson figures to play a key role on the defense again. The Giants will welcome hard-nosed running back Ahmad Bradshaw back into the fold, as he missed the Week 10 matchup in San Francisco due to injury.

But after watching his grandson slow down quarterback Drew Brees and New Orleans in last week’s 36-32 win, Leon Haralson is confident in his junkyard helper and his teammates.

“Brees – they didn’t let him breathe last week,” Leon Haralson said. “I think they’ll do the same to (Giants quarterback) Eli (Manning). When you got No. 98 (Haralson), No. 99 (Aldon Smith) and No. 55 (Ahmad Brooks), coming in there, you better watch out.”

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