Douglass receiver Paul Harris knows for certain that he wants to graduate from high school a semester early so that he can enroll at his college of choice for the spring 2013 semester. That’s why Harris is attending summer school classes during the day and again at night this month.
What Harris, a four-star recruit according to Rivals.com, hasn’t figured out yet is which of the 21 schools that have extended him scholarship offers in the past six months he’ll attend. Harris said in a telephone interview Wednesday he has narrowed his choices to Southern California, Tennessee, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
“A lot of the people that are around me with the process, they encouraged it,” Harris said of graduating high school a semester early. “I popped up with the idea after it was given to me, and I asked around – I asked my coach; I asked my mom. I wanted to see what they thought, and they said it would be good. … I’m not the type of kid that goes out and parties a lot, so there’s really nothing bad about it.”
A close friend of Harris’s, Stephon Morris, graduated a semester early from Eleanor Roosevelt High before enrolling at Penn State. Harris sought counsel from Morris about the possibility of enrolling in college early, and Morris, now a senior cornerback for the Nittany Lions, endorsed the idea.
After taking a similar path, Morris played in all 13 of Penn State’s games in 2009 as a true freshman and was on the field for more plays than any of the other seven true freshmen that saw the field.
Harris said he has taken unofficial visits to USC, Penn State and Tennessee thus far.
“I’m not rushing” the decision on where to go to college, Harris said. “It’s a four-year decision, and I’m going to make it with the people around me that have been in my corner.”
One of those people is Douglass Coach J.C. Pinkney, who has known Harris since the player was in sixth grade. Harris played in the Upper Marlboro Boys & Girls Club, and his mother, Tiasha, is a special education teacher at Douglass, so Harris was around the school regularly.
Harris initially attended DeMatha but left the Hyattsville private school after then-Coach Bill McGregor resigned following Harris’s sophomore season.
“Once I went to DeMatha and he left, there was no point in me staying because I only went to DeMatha to play under his name,” Harris said. “There was no point in staying if he wasn’t there.”
The decision to transfer to Douglass likely benefited Harris in his quest to snare the attention of college coaches. He did not receive enough playing time on the varsity squad at DeMatha to put together a film of clips to send out to colleges.
“He had the measurables,” Pinkney said of Harris, who stands 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds. “But he didn’t have any tape.”
But as a junior last season at Douglass, Harris made an immediate impact. He tallied 39 receptions for 734 yards and 11 touchdowns and also notched 367 yards and two touchdowns on eight kickoff returns.
“We don’t have a bunch of 6-2, 6-3 guys running around that can run,” Pinkney said. “Our depth chart isn’t that extensive. To get a kid like that, with his skill set – he can catch. He was raw. His route running and stuff, he still needed to work on that. But he had all the measurables and the intangibles, and he can catch. He’s not afraid to catch the slant or catch the ball across the middle. He can high point the ball well, he has elevation and he can run.”
After helping lead Douglass to an 11-3 record and a berth in the Maryland 2A final in 2011, Harris finally got the attention from college coaches that he’d been seeking. His first offer came from North Carolina State in early February. Offers from East Carolina and Penn State followed soon thereafter.
By the end of February, he’d garnered an offer from USC. One of Pinkney’s assistants is a friend of USC wide receivers Coach Tee Martin. The assistant sent Martin film of Harris’s junior campaign, and Martin liked what he saw. The offers continued to pour in after USC jumped into Harris’s recruitment.
“That stuff is kind of like copycat, monkey-see, monkey-do almost,” Pinkney said. “One team in a conference offers a kid and the others start to pay attention to him and they look at the film and see, ‘Wow, this kid can play.’ And word starts to spread like that.”
Harris had set a goal of earning more than 20 offers – “I wanted to show everybody why I was one of the best wide receivers in the nation,” he said. – and he now holds 21. But he has narrowed his list to five schools entering his senior season.
Harris ran indoor and outdoor track, which didn’t leave him much time to add muscle following his junior football season. That’s been one of his primary objectives this summer.
Pinkney also is asking Harris to become more versatile, as he will be expected to play more snaps at safety this fall.
“I want to be Maryland state player of the year” in 2012, Harris said. “I don’t have really too much left on my agenda to fulfill in high school right now. But when we think of something, it’s going to be put on my goal list.”
Which, to this point, is full of checkmarks.
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