Drake Harris caught eight passes for 243 yards in Grand Rapids Christian's 40-37 win over Orchard Lake St. Mary's in the Division 3 championship game. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
The word special has been used to describe Drake Harris' talent, going as far back as his middle school years. In most instances those descriptions referenced his skill on the basketball floor. Fast forward to the present day, however, and the superlatives being attached to the Grand Rapids Christian junior more commonly refer to his talent on the gridiron.
"He was outstanding on the football field last season," said Scout.com Midwest regional manager Allen Trieu. "I thought he was good as a sophomore, but he kicked it up another notch as a junior. He made the same types of big plays he did as a sophomore, but he made them at key times. He came up big when the lights were the brightest.
"It was special, especially that state title game performance. I don't think I've seen a kid do anything quite like that in a state title game recently. I also saw him one other time in the playoffs against Zeeland West and he had three huge grabs on third and extra long. … In the playoffs you could see something else click — maybe something intangible where he basically said, 'I'm taking over and no one's going to stop me.'"
And no one did. All told, Harris accounted for an astonishing 2,016 receiving yards and capped things off with a record setting eight-catch, 243-yard, one-touchdown performance in the championship game. That showing may have been the precursor to what turned out to be a recent epiphany.
"A little bit after my sophomore season I was thinking football might be my sport," Harris recalled. "Then I wanted to try out basketball. After this season, I was like, 'I'm a football player. I'll have a lot more success playing football in college.'"
Talent evaluators certainly agree. In Scout.com's class of 2014 basketball rankings, Harris is considered a three-star prospect and the No. 19 shooting guard in the country. Meanwhile, on the football side of things, he is ranked a four-star prospect, the No. 6 wide receiver in the country, and the No. 39 player overall. When all is said and done he could be rank even higher.
"I haven't seen all the other top receivers out there, but he's the top guy in my region," said Trieu. "If there is someone out there that's better, then that kid is probably very, very good. Our first in-state ranking, which was ages ago, Drake was third. We are due to update that soon and I think it would be a tremendous upset for him to not end up No. 1 in Michigan. Keep in mind, this is a very strong year at the top and you have three guys who are bona fide candidates for that top spot (including Detroit Cass Tech's Damon Webb and Detroit Loyola's Malik McDowell). But Drake's playoff run and then what he did in the state title game gives him a leg up in my opinion."
Trieu continued: "He has it all — size, speed, great leaping ability, ball skills, as well as good route running skills and smarts. And, I think what's lost in all of this recruiting hype and all of his physical talents is he's a really good, coachable kid who is going to work hard and do what he needs to do to capitalize on his potential."
Focus on football
At its core, that's what Harris' future plan to focus on football is all about — maximizing his athletic potential.
"He loves basketball, but the kid's not stupid," said Harris' father, Michael. "He knows there are not a lot of kids like him in football with his size, his speed, and all that. And he just knows that it's going to be extremely hard for him to do both in college. We kind of figured that out after watching the national title game and watching how by the time you get back on the basketball court, you (will have) missed nine, 10 games. He understands that if he puts all his effort into football, he knows he can do some great things."
With basketball out of the equation, suddenly one of the major factors that led to Harris' summer commitment to Michigan State is no longer present. Because of that he and his family thought it prudent to reevaluate all of his options to ensure he makes the best choice.
"From the beginning, the reason why I committed to State was because I was playing two sports and I wanted to play for Izzo," Harris said. "If I was just playing basketball I wouldn't be looking at any other schools. I'm still committed to State and everything, but I want to open my recruiting back up."
Added Michael Harris: "Drake feels Tom Izzo is the best basketball coach in the country. He feels like Michigan State's basketball program is a great family and it's a great fit. He felt like if he was going to play basketball, Izzo was going to be the person to get him to that next level. Plus Izzo has been there since Drake's been in eighth grade; you didn't see Izzo waiting until a certain time to offer Drake. Personally, that sent a great message to us."
The news that the 6-3, 180-pounder plans to look around was likely a bitter pill for Izzo and Mark Dantonio to swallow, but both Spartan coaches handled the development with the type of grace that helped Michigan State maintain its status as the team to beat.
"I talked to coach Izzo (and) I told him I wasn't playing basketball," Harris said. "I talked to coach Dantontio and he told me he was cool with me going to look at other schools. He told me to take my time and give everyone and equal chance."
That should hardly be taken as a concession on the part of the Green and White. The Spartans have vowed to continue to recruit Harris vigorously, but so too have a number of others, including Big Ten brethren Michigan and Ohio State.
OSU's Urban Meyer wasted little time demonstrating his interest, and made his way to West Michigan last week to extend a scholarship offer.
"It was great," Harris told Scout.com regarding Meyer's presence at his school. "He's one of the best coaches ever to coach college football. It was great to have him there in front of me and it means a lot for him to come up here and visit me. It was a great experience to meet him and I was very happy with the offer coming from a great program like Ohio State."
Michigan was similarly aggressive, sending three coaches to Harris' basketball game at East Grand Rapids Friday evening. The Wolverines had already extended an offer last summer, but again made clear their plan to make the prized in-state target a priority. Harris indicated that the interest is mutual, especially with what he sees on the horizon offensively in Ann Arbor.
"I think they run the pro-style offense — they run the ball a little bit and that sets up the play action, which I like, for vertical threats," he said. "So they can throw the ball down the field. They're bringing Shane Morris in, a great quarterback. I know they throw the ball and run the ball so they have great balance on offense. The defense can't just sit on the pass or sit on the run."
In the coming months, thorough dissections of the offenses employed by each of his suitors will take place. Whether the scheme in question is a spread or a pro-style, it must possess one easily discernible trait to remain viable.
"We just kind of check on the schools (to see) who we all feel best fits his ability, and that needs to be somebody that stretches the field," said Michael Harris. "You've got to throw the ball. It don't make no sense for him to go somewhere where they don't throw the ball."
There will be no shortage of school anxious to prove they do just that. Notre Dame, Florida, Florida State and Alabama are a few of the programs Harris reports he has already made contact with. More of college football's who's-who will surely come calling, and Harris plans to listen.
"We're going to sit down and make sure we have our T's crossed (and) our I's dotted," said Michael Harris. "Wherever he ends up — if he's still going to stay at State or if he goes out here and finds something that fits him better — we want to make sure that we do our research.
"You can't blame a kid for that."
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA.