When Douglass wide receiver Paul Harris orally committed to Tennessee in July and spurned an offer from his “dream school” USC, he cited his close relationship with the team’s wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw as one of the top factors in the decision.
After news broke last week that the Volunteers would not bring back Hinshaw as part of new coach Butch Jones’s staff, Harris planned to de-commit right away and pick between Oregon and South Carolina.
Instead, Jones convinced the 6-foot-4, 200-pound All-Met over the phone to give him a chance to make his recruiting pitch in person. On Saturday morning, Jones and running backs coach Jay Graham visited Harris in his Accokeek home and by the end of the session, the player once again felt secure in his commitment. Later in the day, Harris said he would cancel planned trips to South Carolina and Oregon this week and stick with his original pledge.
“I really got a good vibe from him,” Harris said of Jones. “He’s a really good person, and I think Tennessee’s going to shock some people in the next few years. I think they’re going in the right direction.”
While National Signing Day (Feb. 6, 2013) is more than a month away, Harris needed to make a decision quickly as he took courses over the summer to fulfill his high school graduation requirements early. His last day of classes at Douglass will be Thursday, and he plans to head to Knoxville, Tenn, on Jan. 2 to begin working toward a degree in sport management with a minor in religious history.
Harris, who began his high school career at DeMatha, earned first-team All-Met honors this fall after leading the Eagles back to the Maryland 2A final where they fell to Middletown for the second straight year. He finished his senior season with 32 catches for 723 receiving yards and 11 total touchdowns, six of which came in four postseason games.
Since the season-ending loss, Harris had watched anxiously as Tennessee worked to replace fired coach Derek Dooley and his assistants and developed a contingency plan, in case he needed to look elsewhere. Jones was scheduled to visit Thursday but had to push it back as he worked late in the week to finalize his staff.
Ultimately, Jones — who coached wide receivers at West Virginia for two years prior to becoming a first-time college head coach at Central Michigan in 2007 — arrived Saturday with the answers to ease Harris’s concerns.
“It was kind of hard,” Harris said of the past few weeks. “I really didn’t know what I was going to do, but I prayed about it and I talked to my mom. … At the end of the day, nothing changed. The decision was the same as day one, there were just some little bumps thrown in along the way.”