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Pirate Notebook No. 440
Monday, August 9, 2010

Denny O'Brien

Harris poised to flourish in Air East

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

When Dwayne Harris arrived at the Conference USA Media Kickoff two weeks ago, his left hand was aglow with gold.

It was a strong message to the members of the media, coaches, and players who had gathered in Memphis to tee up the 2010 season, many of whom are suddenly overlooking East Carolina despite its consecutive league championships in 2008 and 2009.

The exodus of former coach Skip Holtz, the loss of 28 seniors and early NFL entry Linval Joseph have prompted a slide in ECU’s perception around C-USA, but the presence of Harris’ championship rings was a reminder that the Pirates still own the conference throne.

It is certainly understandable if Harris’ hardware was also a personal billboard aimed at the league’s coaches, the ones who didn’t tout him as the preseason Special Teams Player of the Year. That honor went to Houston’s Tyron Carrier, despite Harris taking the award last season after three dazzling touchdowns on kick returns.

But Harris says he doesn’t view the preseason voting as an intentional slight against him, nor does he perceive the lack of buzz for ECU as a sign of decline. Both, however, do provide the senior receiver with motivation, and he’s prepared to prove his point this fall.

“I don’t know how they vote on these things,” Harris said. “A lot of people didn’t kick the ball to me last year. They did that for a reason. Every time I touch the ball, they know there is a possibility of me running it back.

"It’s just motivation for me. I’m not going to take it personal. I’m just going to go out there and play football.”

The league coaches did vote Harris a 1st-team receiver on their preseason ballots, which is a pretty stout honor when you consider the plethora of standout receivers in C-USA. That seems a wise decision when you consider Harris’ past accomplishments at the position and how he might perform in the Pirates’ new offense.

In former offensive coordinator Todd Fitch’s more conservative attack, Harris hauled in 83 passes last season for nearly 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. He added five more scores on the ground — second best on the team — and provided a threat from multiple positions.

New Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill, who brought the Air Raid attack with him from Texas Tech, believes Harris will excel in offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley’s offense.

“He did a good job last year,” McNeill said. “I think the thing that we try to do in this football is distribute the football among all five (receiver positions). One of the biggest things we’ll want to know is ball distribution, position distribution, what position has caught ‘X’ amount of balls.”

“We want to do a great job of spreading the football around. I think that’s where Dwayne will benefit. People will not be able to double-team Dwayne. Lincoln (Riley) and those guys do a great job of distributing the football. He’s going to be a special one. I’m excited about Dwayne.”

Harris, who has been the do-everything man for the Pirates the past couple of seasons, seems equally excited about the offensive transformation.

“It’s been a great change for me,” Harris said. “I loved Skip’s offense. It gave me an opportunity to get the ball in a lot of different ways. Coach Ruff brought in the spread so I’m a lot more of a receiver now. I’m enjoying it. It’s giving me a chance to show people that I can run routes and get down field. Last year was more bubble screens and five-year hitches.

"This will give me a chance to run 10, 15-yard routes, so I’m loving it.”

In other words, this is Harris’ opportunity to shine as a true receiver and prove to NFL scouts that he isn’t just a raw athlete playing the position.

When Harris burst onto the seen for ECU, he was viewed a versatile athlete who could be inserted into a multitude of positions. The first real evidence of his ability came in that 2007 opener at Virginia Tech where he was plugged into the Wildcat formation and helped march the Pirates down the field for a go-ahead score.

Later in the season in a crucial C-USA showdown against UTEP, Harris both ran for and threw for long scores. It further accentuated Harris’ abilities as a slash or hybrid in the Pirates’ offense. He was ECU’s version of Antwaan Randle El, albeit a more polished iteration as a college receiver when you consider the numbers.

Harris already is the Pirates’ all-time leading receiver in terms of receptions, and his next closest competition trails by 15 catches. Needless to say, that margin will grow.

Next in the record books for Harris is the career mark in receiving yards. He trails former Pirates great Troy Smith in that category by 104 yards.

“I just want to be labeled as one of the greatest receivers ever to come through East Carolina,” Harris said. “I’m just going out there to play football. If the record comes, I’m just going to continue to build on that.

“Yeah, it’s going to be a great feeling once I do it. It’s going to be one of those things where I can look back and say I accomplished something at ECU.”

Truthfully, Harris doesn’t need another record to prove that. His name is already etched throughout ECU’s statistical almanac and he has a distinction unlike any other in the program’s history:


O'Brien: Harris poised to flourish in Air Raid East
BVL Audio: Ruffin McNeill Meets with the Media
Batten: A smash-mouth sport of his own
Myatt: Education on agents ongoing at ECU
BVL: Recruiting thumbnail (QB Cody Keith)
Bradsher: Red dogs and slants lady-style
Bailey: Ladies get a jump on football season
O'Brien: McNeill ready for new set of challenges
Myatt: BYU legend guided Simmons into coaching
BVL: Nelson out after workout infractions

Harris was the offensive centerpiece of consecutive C-USA championship runs, a highlight reel who wowed fans as much with his football instincts as he did with his strength and speed.

Another record will serve only to cement what most fans already universally agree about Harris: He is one of the most memorable players in ECU’s proud football history.

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09/04/2010 02:01 AM

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