MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — With five top 300 players and the No. 9 overall recruiting class in the country by 247Sports Composite, Butch Jones and company is putting together one of its best years yet on the recruiting trail for Tennessee.
Among all of the talent, it’s no surprise that 3-star receiver Jatavious Harris isn’t the first player to stick out in the class. As it stands now, Harris falls just outside of the top 100 receivers in the Class of 2018 and is the fourth-lowest rated player in the Vols current class of 11 players.
At 6-foot-2, 176 pounds, Harris isn’t your typical big-bodied possession receiver or the typical 3-star recruit. He’s an athletic specimen.
“He’s a freakish athlete,” Baldwin (Ga.) High School Jesse Hicks said. “The one thing that just sticks out to you is just the kid is 6-2, 6-3 and he’s fast. He can fly. He’s got a speed and a gear that’s a little bit different than most kids. He’s a great track athlete.”
Calling Harris a great track athlete is an understatement. One of the best runners in the state of Georgia, Harris capped off his high school track career in dominating fashion in May, winning the state title in the 100 meter and 200 meter races and he also ran a leg each on the state championship 400-meter relay and 1,600-meter relay for the Braves.
To put it in perspective, Harris ran the 100 meter in 10.65 seconds, which is just 0.21 seconds outside of the top 10 all-time in Georgia history. Of course, he’s still a very raw football player and even with his 5-star speed, there’s still plenty of the more technical aspects of the position that he still needs to learn to become elite.
“I want him to improve some of his route running and his ball skills,” Hicks said. “Other than that, he’s easy to coach, he takes coaching, he stays after, you tell him and say, ‘Hey Tay, listen, this is what you’ve got to do to improve.'”
While those other things will have to be refined at the next level, it’s going to be hard for receivers’ coach Kevin Beard and the Vols not to find a way to get his explosive speed out on the field in some capacity.
Given that Harris plans to enroll early at Tennessee and Beard’s renowned hands-on coaching style, Harris could very well be ready to torch SEC defenses by August 2018. His high school coach doesn’t think there’s a school in the country Harris couldn’t join and have an immediate positive influence on the offense.
“I think he can just walk on anybody’s campus and play,” Hicks said. “Especially with his speed, everything else can be worked on if there needs to be any tweaking. That will be up to the University of Tennessee. I told the wide receivers’ coach the other day, I said, ‘Hey coach, listen. You can’t teach 10.4 and 10.3 speed. You can work on ball skills, you can work on route running, but the stuff that he has, the natural ability that he has, I don’t think there’s a school in this country that he wouldn’t step on campus and could be an immediate impact.”
Hicks is just a couple months into his second stint as Baldwin’s head coach after leaving the school in 2009. Having missed all of Harris’ career up to that point, he knew about the speed but hadn’t seen it beyond drills in spring practice.
It took exactly one week into the spring, when Baldwin had its first intra-squad scrimmage, for Hicks to realize just what he had under his nose.
“We threw a screen to him and guys literally had angles on him and he just walked past the angles, just ran past them. I thought they had him covered, I’m getting ready to blow the whistle, blow it up you know, and I look up and he’s up the sideline. I was like, ‘How’d he get out there?’ So when you go back and look at the practice film, you say, ‘This kid just went outside and just outran the angle,’ and that’s one of the things that you really say, ‘OK, this kid is special. He’s a little bit different.’ That was the ah-ha moment for me. I always knew it, but that was the moment for me when he seemed as though the guys had angles and he was trapped and he walked up out of that, I knew then he was a special kid.”
“He’s a ball of energy”
A ball of energy, that’s how Hicks describes him.
Harris’ personality is just as loud and obvious as his speed. Anyone who follows him on Twitter knows just how personable he can be. Those who know him personally can see it in his smile.
“Great kid, great smile, just the kind of kid you want on your football team,” Hicks said. “He’s one of those guys, when he’s in the room you’re going to know he’s there. He’s a ball of energy. He’s always constantly moving, talking, whatever. But he’s also a very good athlete.”
That personality has made him one of the most active members of Tennessee’s Class of 2018 when it comes to Twitter. In a little over three years on Twitter, Harris has already sent out more than 27,000 tweets. He likes to interact with Tennessee fans.
Tennessee fans, help me get more followers!💯 thanks in advance🍊 #GBO
— Jatavious Harris (@screamtaaye) June 12, 2017
But, most importantly, he likes to interact with other members of the Class of 2018. He aggressively pushed after guys like Adrian Martinez, Brendan Harris and Jaylon Reed. He’s maintained some pressure on close friend Jaycee Horn that’s helped keep the Vols in the mix. And if a #GBO tweet pops up in your Twitter feed, it’s probably there because Harris retweeted it.
“I always planned to just do that no matter where I committed to,” Harris said.
— JUNGLE BOY 🦍 (@jayceehorn_10) June 12, 2017
But with the big personality and big play ability, it’s hard not to get absorbed in the recruiting process, especially when you consider that he has almost 30 offers and has seen a coach from nearly every school in the southeast come through the halls of Baldwin High School over the past couple years.
But even with that, Harris has managed to keep a level head and learn some humility along the way while keeping his sight on his love of the game and still having a little fun with the whole process.
“Everybody in the country’s been in here recruiting him so that might, at times, seem as though it might be a little hinderance but it’s not, he’s learning humility,” Hicks said. “You’ve got all these coaches coming in telling you how much they love you and they want you to be on their team and they want you to come and be a part of what they do and you start talking about I think he’s got something like 29, 30 offers now. You’ve got major schools coming in saying that, especially your home state schools coming in and saying, ‘Hey, we want you to be a part of what we’ve got.’ It can be very impressionable on kids and he’s no different than any other kid.”