Kalamazoo – Receiver Drake Harris is looking forward to his chance to get on the field and produce for Western Michigan. It’s an opportunity that he believes he didn’t get at Michigan, where he spent the first four years of his college career.
Harris feels comfortable working with junior quarterback Jon Wassink and thinks he can be an impact player in the passing game with the Broncos. Western finished just 6-6 last season as 21 players suffered season-ending injuries, after winning the Mid-American Conference championship in 2016.
Harris will suit up for second-year WMU coach Tim Lester with one year of college eligibility remaining.
“Coach Lester draws up great schemes and I love the offense he runs,” Harris told The Detroit News. “Being close to home also was a reason (to transfer), having my family come see me play was important, and I know that Western puts players in the NFL, and that’s what I want to get to and they have the reputation to do that.
“I want to win, and we want to win the MAC and I believe we have the talent to do that. I want to make plays for our team to help us win and show people at the next level that I can play there.”
Harris attended Grand Rapids Christian and set the single-season state record for receiving yards (2,015) his junior year in 2012 when he had 91 receptions in 14 games while helping his team win the state championship. He missed his senior year due to a hamstring injury and was redshirted his freshman year at Michigan, then never lived up to his four-star billing, starting just one game in 2015 and again in 2016 before being moved to the secondary last season.
Harris was the No. 1 player on The Detroit News Blue Chip list in the 2014 recruiting class.
“I’ve always had a lot of confidence in myself – at Michigan I did as well – and I really wasn’t banged up too much,” said Harris. “My true freshman year I was, but after that I was pretty healthy, just feel like I never got the opportunity. It’s good to know that you have guys up there (at WMU) that fully trust you and believe in what you can do, and that’s huge in this game.”
Harris has high praise for Wassink.
“If I’m going to compare him to somebody – I didn’t play against him – but he’s in the NFL and that’s Kirk Cousins, and I know he is a mentor to Jon,” said Harris of Wassink. “He just kind of reminds me of that type of player. Jon is very smart back there, makes great decisions with the ball and he’s a very accurate passer.
“We have players on this team who can stretch the field. We have players that can play in the slot, run bubbles and get up the field and create. I believe I can stretch the field with over-the-top balls. I feel like I can run other routes as well, but my biggest strength is to stretch the field and make plays downfield.”
Harris is thrilled about the chance to be the No. 1 threat in the passing game. He wants to be the go-to guy.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” Harris said. “I like moments where people rely on me and go to me and I believe that I’m a player who can make big plays during a game.”
Harris is enjoying fall camp practices, knowing a lot of passes will be thrown his way.
“At Michigan we ran the ball a lot and we were a more slow-paced huddle,” said Harris. “This offense is more uptempo. We’re spread so we throw the ball a lot more.”
Lester feels the passing game will be a strength this season, something that certainly wasn’t the case a year ago, when Wassink started for the first time and had rookie receivers as well.
Western ranked 11th in the 12-team MAC last season in passing offense, averaging 166.5 yards per game.
“Drake looks great,” said Lester of Harris. “He’s so long, runs well and he’s already made tons of catches. He has the ability to run by you.
“Jaylen Hall (Macomb Dakota), who redshirted last year, looks great. He’s a 6-foot-4 kid who runs a 4.5. We have length and we have speed and that changes everything for the running game. Last year everybody was able to load the box against us.”
The Broncos return former 1,000-yard rusher Jamauri Bogan and Levante Bellamy, both coming back from injuries. Receivers Keishawn Watson (41 receptions, seven TD), D’Wayne Eskridge (30 receptions, three TD) and Anton Curtis (18 receptions) return after gaining valuable experience last season.
Still, a lot of WMU’s success will depend on the play of Harris, who is planning an NFL career after his season with the Broncos.
“Absolutely,” said Harris of his goal of playing in the NFL. “It’s a blessing that I was redshirted my freshman year so I have this opportunity to play my fifth year. There’s been guys who had success after leaving Michigan, guys like (running back) Thomas Rawls, who played at Central (and then with Seahawks) and (defensive tackle) Richard Ash, who came here at Western for his fifth year and is now playing for the Cowboys.”
WMU has sent multiple players to the NFL during the past few years, as well, including offensive linemen Willie Beavers, Taylor Moton and Chukwuma Okorafor, along with receiver Corey Davis (first round, 2017, Titans) and defensive back Sam Beal in last month’s supplemental draft (Giants, third round).