Harris, 18, has learned to take the attention in stride. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound wide receiver had played few varsity reps before coming to Douglass from DeMatha last fall, and he only morphed into a top prospect thanks to his work at the Upper Marlboro public school. Now he’s led the Eagles back to the state playoffs for the second straight season, beginning with Friday’s Maryland 2A semifinal against Edmondson-Westside in Baltimore.
“It’s just crazy — I’m like ‘Don’t these guys know I’m going to college in a month?’ ” said Harris, rated a four-star recruit by Rivals.com. “But it just goes to show that a lot of people really respect what I do, and they think they can help mold [my game]. That’s a blessing now — a sign from God that everybody knows my talent.”
With Harris, the challenge was unlocking the potential that had long intrigued area coaches. After helping the Marlboro Mustangs to an undefeated season in his eighth grade year, the local private schools recruited him heavily.
Harris and his mother, Tiasha Carter, made at least 10 different visits before settling on DeMatha. With the Stags, the wide receiver said he struggled to grasp the playbook early on and ultimately had his sophomore season derailed by a shoulder injury.
When Coach Bill McGregor resigned in March 2011 leaving the program briefly in flux, Harris was ready for a change, too. Though he had grown up mostly attending private Catholic schools, he enrolled at Douglass, where his mother has worked as a special education teacher for eight years.
“You watch Paul for five minutes, and you know he’s going to be outstanding,” McGregor said. “He has all the intangibles you look for that you can’t teach. . . . He just had to wait his turn a little bit.”
Carter, who gave birth to Harris during her junior year at Woodbridge High School, knew her son would fit in easily at Douglass because of his familiarity with the school, but she met with each of his teachers early on to make sure he didn’t get a free pass in the classroom because she was in the building.
On the football field, Harris joined the Eagles with little national recruiting buzz and his own doubts about how he would fit into Coach J.C. Pinkney’s run-first, triple-option offense.
Adjusting to his first extensive game action took time, but Harris surged late in the season with 24 catches for 492 yards and six touchdowns combined in the team’s last five games. Douglass finished its season with its first state title game appearance since 1975, falling to Middletown, 43-6.