Harris chooses Wolves over Southern Oregon
Coquille's Joe Harris signs a copy of his letter of intent alongside head coach David Thomason on Wednesday. World Photo by John Gunther.

COQUILLE -- Joe Harris had a standout football career at Coquille High School with his speed and athleticism. He hopes to do the same thing over the next few years at Western Oregon University.

Harris signed a letter of intent to join the Wolves on Wednesday, stamping his future at the school in Monmouth.

'I really liked the school when I went up there," said Harris, who picked Western Oregon after also considering Southern Oregon University and hearing from some other schools. 'I like the coaches. I like the program they have."

Harris plans to study either business or sports medicine, and hopes to play running back or slot receiver.

At Coquille, he was a multi-position standout as a running back, defensive back, punter, kicker and return specialist. Last fall, he gained 1,180 yards rushing on 152 attempts, scoring 21 touchdowns. He also had 20 receptions for another 267 yards and four touchdowns, threw for two touchdowns on halfback passes, and averaged 24 yards on punt returns and 34 yards on kickoff returns, scoring a few more touchdowns. On defense, he intercepted four passes.

His junior year, Harris had 16 touchdowns and averaged 11.9 yards rushing and 18.7 yards per reception.

Coquille head coach David Thomason said Western Oregon's coaching staff told him the Wolves prefer to redshirt freshmen.

'But I know they have a need at running back," Thomason said.

That's where he hopes to play.

'They said I can make a big impact in the offense," Harris said. 'They like my ability to get into the open field."

Harris' family wouldn't be surprised if he has a big impact early in his career.

'Ultimately, it's up to him and how much work he puts in," said Georgeina Harris, the standout's mom.

Georgeina and Kenny Harris like the school's commitment to athletics, including some impressive new facilities, as well as its focus on academics.

'They're real high on academics," Georgeina said, noting that the school had several members of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference All-Academic Team last fall.

Harris will start with a $2,000 scholarship, which will go up if he ends up playing a key role on the team, such as becoming a starter.

He also was contacted by Portland State University, Pacific University, a few schools in the Midwest and the University of Oregon, which Georgeina said asked him to apply as a student and then try out to be a walk-on with the Ducks.

The toughest decision was picking Western Oregon over Southern Oregon, which includes former Coquille teammate Heston Altenbach.

'Heston was recruiting me," said Harris, adding that as of Wednesday afternoon, he hadn't told his close friend of his final decision. 'I'm afraid to call him."

Harris has participated in five varsity sports at Coquille, with success at most of them. He had a promising future in baseball before missing his sophomore and junior seasons due to injury. But in his absence from that sport, he developed into a standout sprinter, winning the Class 3A state championship at 200 meters last spring. He hopes to compete in both sports this spring.

Harris also played a role on the school's soccer team that reached the playoffs in 2009 and is a standout basketball player for the Red Devils, though he missed that sport's entire season last year after dislocating his shoulder on the tip-off in the opening game.

Harris said he was excited when a fellow South Coast standout, Marshfield's Ryan Scoville, also decided to sign with the Wolves. The two running backs have talked about being roommates in Monmouth.

'That will be pretty sweet," Harris said. 'At least I'll know someone up there."

Harris is believed to be the first Coquille athlete to sign a letter of intent since distance standout Holli Dieu joined Oregon State's cross country program several years ago.

'It's great for Joe and his family," Thomason said. 'It's great for our program. It's great for the high school. It's great all around."

Thomason said when coaches were scouting Harris, they also saw some younger players they might recruit in a few years.

'Joe being in the spotlight has brought the spotlight on the entire program," he said. 'It's a good deal.

Sports Editor John Gunther can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 241, or at jgunther@theworldlink.com.

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