At the Gridiron Kings event in late July, the last big event of the summer, Orlando (FL) Dr. Philips safety Marcell Harris was planning on naming his top five schools. It didn't happen, as Harris opted to take more time before finally naming a top six instead, revealed on ESPN's Verbal Commitment podcast Friday.
The six schools making the cut for Harris are Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. Conventional wisdom for months has been that Florida and Texas are in the lead, with Florida holding the advantage of his father having played there in college. Harris has also taken two visits to Texas over the last year or so, with plans to attend the opener against Wyoming for his third trip.
The surprising addition is Oklahoma, as there weren't really any indications previously that the Sooners were in the mix. According to Crimson and Cream Machine recruiting analyst Jordan Esco, Harris hasn't visited Norman yet, so a possible official visit would probably be his first. Obviously, there aren't any guarantees that Oklahoma would even get one with six teams on the list for Harris and he can only visit five officially.
Harris shared his thoughts about each school on the podcast. Here's what he had to say about Texas ($):
Texas has always been a great program. Coach Mack Brown and coach [Duane] Akina they have history behind them with the guys they have developed and guys they have put in the NFL. Not to mention they were one of the first teams to come out to my spring practice, but other than that I'm also a great fit in their program. They've had some big physical safeties like Michael Huff, so I'd be playing their positions and just following those guys that made the NFL. I'm like a puzzle piece for them too.
Coach T-Rob [Travaris Robinson], the defensive backs coach, and coach Will Muschamp being the head coach and also the safety coach that would be coaching me. You know Florida with Coach Will and T-Rob, they are all my boys, they are my coaches, they are good guys and I've built a good relationship with them. That ‘No fly zone' ... any SEC team will be hard to throw a pass against us. I'm the piece of the puzzle they are looking for that 'No fly zone.'
Like the rest of Harris' recruitment, those statements are pretty close to the vest, so nothing particularly ground-breaking. Obviously, the reputation at Texas, the reputation that Duane Akina has around the country, those are strong factors in DBU's favor.
And if I recall correctly, his father said after the first Texas visit last summer that he might have been a Longhorn had he visited and been recruited by Texas. Or something along those lines, suggesting that Mr. Harris wouldn't mind his son standing up his alma mater and playing his college football in Austin.
Proximity could be a helpful factor for Harris, but he's never mentioned wanting to stay close to home as a major consideration -- otherwise Texas wouldn't be in such good shape with him.
From the Texas perspective, Harris is a bonus take. To call current pledge Erik Huhn's skillset a bit redundant to what Harris brings to the table probably isn't fair to either, but they are both bigger safeties who excel against the run, but aren't of the hybrid type like Michael Huff, Earl Thomas, or a handful of others.
All of which raises the question about whether or not Texas would take both Harris and Chandler (AZ) Hamilton's Cole Luke, who may be favoring Texas slightly over Oklahoma and Oregon, with USC likely full unless something changes with their current commits, and possibly Notre Dame in the mix. The odds of both landing in Austin are actually relatively high, but Texas going there with the numbers just doesn't seem nearly as likely.
There's some talk that the 'Horns aren't overly concerned about a big splash at defensive back to end the class with the massive 2014 group already shaping up pretty well with a handful of guys like Lewisville Hebron's Jamal Adams, Beaumont Ozen's Tony Brown, and Dallas Bishop Dunne's Nick Watkins, among others.
We shall see.
Coming out of The Opening, here are some thoughts on how Harris performed over the summer in a setting that didn't exactly play to his strengths in pads:
Harris reportedly has some issues turning every interception opportunity into a pick at Gridiron Kings, though he did apparently convert plenty, especially for a guy who some think will eventually grow into a linebacker -- not currently the belief by anyone at SB Nation Recruiting after head analyst Bud Elliott saw him multiple times this summer and Scipio Tex and I saw him at The Opening.
Not as scheme versatile as typical Akina safeties, Harris would still be a strong fit for Texas because he could play some in the SAM role currently held by Demarco Cobbs that could even take advantage of his ability to come downhill by blitzing him at times, but linebacker is a dirty word in his recruitment right now, so don't expect Akina or Manny Diaz to ever mention it.
Keep in mind as well that Harris is definitely suited to play in a Cover 2 look, where he only has to worry about covering hash to sideline, something he clearly has the speed to do after making plays there at The Opening.
And more from Harris on film, from last year:
A kid whose long dreads and choice of a no. 27 jersey evoke comparison to former Texas great Michael Griffin -- seriously, the dude looks uncannily similar. Not even to the prep version of Michael Griffin. Not even to the collegiate version of Michael Griffin. No, with his solid frame and a physical maturity well beyond his years, Harris looks like the current version of Michael Griffin at 6-2 and 195 pounds. Entering his junior season of high school.
In fact, Harris is so impressive physically and looks so advanced for his age group, this author went as far as to say Sunday night that Harris could play the same position currently manned by Blake Gideon better than the prospective four-year starter. Slightly hyperbolic? Perhaps. A position influenced by the euphoria of watching highlights of Harris for the first time after a heady Super Regional victory over Arizona State taken in at the Disch? Perhaps.
Check my reasoning after watching the film, though. With his explosive and decisive first step,
GriffinHarris has the range to be a menace from his deep safety position, using his speed to close on the football and finish plays with interceptions (six as a sophomore). Just as impressive is his ability running the alley in run support, showing that he can take correct angles to the football and the lateral quickness to finish plays one-on-one against running backs in the hole, something that both Gideon and Christian Scott did exceedingly poorly last season.
Though it's not clear how much experience Harris has in coverage -- resulting in any discussion about his ability to walk up in coverage being purely speculative in nature --- that lateral quickness and pure explosiveness suggests that with the physical talent present, some coaching on technique could produce a scheme versatile safety with NFL upside, exactly the type of talent Akina has often melded into NFL careers. And once again, remember that Harris is entering his junior season.
Yeah, he's that good. But despite the praise, which is substantial, he does have some room for improvement. Sophomore, remember? To his detriment, Harris likes to lead with his shoulder at times instead of wrapping up -- call it Roy Williams Syndrome. When he does approach a form tackle, he still often fails to bring his feet and show the type of explosion through his tackles that will eventually allow him to become an intimidating presence that dominates the middle of the field physically. Instill a healthy fear in wide receivers running slants/posts and ballcarriers alike, and all that. If the light comes on like it did for Reggie Wilson in high school, Florida high school football is in some trouble.