June 25, 2012

Coach: New commitment 'is a bona fide stud'

Wide receiver isn't a position of need for Michigan State in the 2013 recruiting class. But when there is a player available with the talents of Jay Harris, the Spartans are apparently willing to make an exception and save room.

Harris, a dynamic play-maker at the wide receiver position from Exton (Pa.) Downingtown East High School, committed to Michigan State on Monday over offers from Penn State, Pittsburgh, Maryland, Rutgers and others.

"Penn State was his first BCS offer, they were his first," said Downingtown East head coach Mike Matta. "Michigan State offered after Penn State."

But the Spartans apparently had too much to sell. And Harris brought a lot to the market.

"This kid is a bona fide stud," Matta said. "Obviously Michigan State agrees with me. He is going to be a play-maker for Michigan State. They got a kid that is going to be able to change the complexion of a game."

Harris had 53 catches for 732 yards with 11 touchdowns last year as a junior for a team that went 9-3 and reached the District 1 AAAA quarterfinals.

Harris is regarded by some as one of the top 20 players in Pennsylvania. Harris's film has not yet been evaluated by Rivals.com.

"I coached in college for 14 years and have coached in high school for 16 years, and I've had about 15 D-1 guys since we started here, and I know that all of these guys who don't know as much about football as I do are the ones doing all the rankings and ratings," Matta said. "But I know this: In 30 years of coaching, he is one of the top five or six athletic receivers that I've seen."

How athletic?

"Well, it's us timing him, and take it with a grain of salt, but we timed him at sub-4.4 (in the 40)," Matta said. "Put it this way: He can fly. I mean he can legitimately fly."

Matta lists Harris at 5-foot-10 and a half, 176 pounds. MSU offered in May after making some in-person evaluations.

Harris camped at Michigan State last Thursday, and was ready to ring the bell on Monday.

"At that camp, he apparently performed really, really well, which doesn't surprise me," Matta said. "With the running and jumping and all of the things they look at, he did real well."

Quarterbacks coach Dave Warner served as Michigan State's primary recruiter for Harris.

"Dave emailed me about Jay after the visit and said Jay was very impressive," Matta said. "His comments were simple, 'He is very impressive.'

"Dave just called me again and said they are cementing everything up right now. They are pretty happy and Jay is pretty excited too.

"I knew all along he really wanted to go to Michigan State," Matta said. "I just exchanged emails with him about his commitment. He's really happy.

"I just wanted to make sure he saw other things before he made a decision. I know Penn State really put the full-court press on him. They kind of felt he would be that sort of wide receiver that they are looking for.

"But he was pro-Michigan State from the time he went out there. He just thought the place was outstanding, the facilities and everything. And he really liked Coach Warner. And Kyle Kerric, who is at Michigan State right now, is a guy he played youth football with. He knew Kyle. It all added up to something he was interested in doing."

Harris has the type of speed and make-you-miss agility that the Spartans couldn't pass on, once MSU had established a lead in his recruitment.

"Michigan State liked several things about him," Matta said. "Number one is his flat-out speed is super, but his change-of-direction is also super.

"A lot of times you get guys that are fast, but they don't have a lot of quickness or change of direction. And sometimes you have guys who have a lot of change of direction but they don't have that great straight-line speed. But Jay is a combination of both.

"College coaches like him as a receiver and a return guy, both as a punt return guy and a kickoff return guy.

"Usually your kickoff guy is a straight-line, fearless guy that can really run. And your punt returner is a guy who can catch the ball in traffic and make you miss, where if there is a seam he can get to it and you are not going to catch him, but if there are people around he can shake you and make you miss. He can do both equally well."

MSU began looking closely at Harris last winter.

"They came by in January," Matta said. "We had a couple of other guys that they were in on for last year's class. They saw Jay when they watched film, and that caused them to have some initial interest.

"In May, they came by and saw him a little bit more in person. They watched one of our workouts and saw some of the things he could do.

"Then came their one-day camp last Thursday.

"Dave (Warner) told me at the beginning, 'I really like him (Harris). I know our coaches are probably going to really like him, but I don't know if we are going to offer a receiver."

But Harris was too good to pass up.

"I think that made Jay really happy when he got that offer from Michigan State," Matta said. "He was really impressed with that place, the coaches and everything."

Warner has worked eastern Pennsylvania successfully for the past few years, resulting in a commitment from four-star defensive lineman Brandon Clemons in 2011, and a commitment form Erie, Pa. quarterback Damion Terry during the spring. Spartan receivers coach Terry Samuel also played a strong role in MSU's recruitment of Harris.

Warner edged MSU into the lead pack for Harris by getting Harris and a teammate to come to an MSU junior day during the winter.

"I think it was in February, definitely during basketball season," Matta said. "That was key, getting him to visit for that junior day.

"I've never been to Michigan State, but they say it's pretty impressive there.

"I have built a little bit of a relationship with Dave over the last couple of years. We've had a D-1 kid the last three or four years and Dave has been here, and he has a good rapport with our guys."

Harris and Downingtown East teammate Elijay Griffen visited Michigan State with their parents for the junior day.

"That was key," Matta said. "Without that, I think Penn State would have swooped him. But with that junior day trip to Michigan State, he came back from that and he compared every place he went to that, and to him, nothing compared to that."

Not even a recent trip to Penn State for camp.

"He was offered by Rutgers but he decided not to go there for camp; didn't seem to have the interest to go to that school. He didn't go to Pitt or Maryland but was offered at those places. Syracuse said all you have to do is come up and we will offer you."

But this one apparently came down to Michigan State and Penn State. And Matta says the Nittany Lions made a strong pitch.

Ron Vanderlinden was Penn State's primary recruiter of Harris.

"(Jay) met with (Penn State head coach) Bill O'Brien and the Penn State coaches compared him to a Wes Welker," Matta said.

O'Brien served as offensive coordinator in 2011 for the New England Patriots, where he coached Welker.

"They liked Jay has a Welker type of receiver, in the slot, able to take a hit and make a guy miss and go," Matta said, "a guy that is hard to guard in the middle of the field. They thought of him as the type of slot receiver that they don't have right now."

Who comes to mind when Matta watches Harris?

"He reminds you of that guy that you play against that every time you kick the ball off to him you worry about where you kick it, worried that he will take it all the way back. When you punt it, you punt it away from him.

"He's that kind of explosive player, whether it's a 2-yard pass or a 30-yard pass, he is always capable of taking it for a touchdown."

Some have compared him to former Michigan great Desmond Howard.

"Yes, thank you," Matta said. "Desmond Howard. That's very much his style of game."

Don't put Harris in the Hall of Fame just yet. Matta isn't suggesting that he is as good as the former Heisman Trophy winner. He just plays with a similar style - and the freakish athleticism doesn't hurt.

"He is a beast in the weight room," Matta said. "He puts up enormous weight. He lifts with the linebackers and tight ends because he is so strong. He's too strong to work out with the receivers and DBs."

How strong?

"He benches 325 and squats 460," Matta said. "He can rattle off 50 pull-ups. If someone does something in the weight room, he is going to try to do more. He's just a workout machine in there."

How does it play out on the field?

Harris had two kickoff returns for TDs and two punt returns for TDs as a junior.

"The other thing that stands out about him is the bigger the game, the bigger the moment, the better he plays," Matta said. "He doesn't shrink. He rises to the occasion."


"When we played Downingtown West, our rival, there had 12 to 14,000 people there, and he caught four touchdown passes in the first half," Matta said. "The last play of the half, he jumped over two guys and caught a 40-yard touchdown pass."

And in the playoffs against West Chester Henderson?

"Henderson had just gone ahead of us, but then he (Harris) ran the next kickoff back for a touchdown to put us back ahead," Matta said.

Downingtown East never relinquished the lead, and advanced in the playoffs.

"He likes pressure," Matta said. "He is the starting point guard on our basketball team. Michigan State is going to get a pretty talented guy."

The Rest Of It

As was the case when Terry committed, these Pennsylvania coaches continue to say great things about Dave Warner and the MSU staff.

Terry's coach, Mike Mischler, had this interesting quote about the MSU coaching staff.

"I tell you what, this might not mean something to some people, but I was at an entire practice in the spring," Mischler said, "and I did not hear one swear word. Not one. Not from a player, not from a coach. This is football. You get some of that sometimes. It's going to happen. It happens a lot at some places. But it occurred to me while I was there and I didn't hear one swear word. That's kind of unique."

Matta said this: "Recruiting gets kind of slimy, unfortunately, but that's not the case with these guys. The thing I like about Dave Warner and the other Michigan State guys is that they are straight-up guys. I haven't met Coach Dantonio yet, but everything I hear about him and what I've seen from him on TV, he's that way, and they're all that way."

Downingtown East, which is located 25 miles southwest of Philadelphia, is one of the top programs in eastern Pennsylvania. Getting one player from that school could help MSU get a shot at others to come, perhaps starting next year.

Downingtown East has at least three players that will be on the major college map for 2013:

  • Mike Reichwein (6-5, 240, TE/OL).

  • Alec Coyle-Nichols (6-5, 230, TE).

  • Riley Angeline (6-3, 215, RB).

    "I have talked to Dave about Mike Reichwein," Matta said. "And he is probably an offensive tackle for the next level. He is a big kid and he is going to keep getting bigger.

    "Riley started as a sophomore halfway through last year (due to an injury to Va Tech-bound Drew Harris), and he has gotten bigger since then, so we are hoping he can batter-ram some people."

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