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(ECU SID Image)
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
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’
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
“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
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
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:
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.