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Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Paul Harris talks Vols' future and options

By Dave Hooker

Early playing time, fantastic facilities and long-standing traditions are nice. Paul Harris prefers relationships.

The receiver from Upper Marlboro (Md.) Douglass has cited his relationships with Tennessee's coaches as the primary reason he committed to the Vols in July. Harris is all too aware that those relationships may soon be in jeopardy.

With a 4-6 record (0-6 in the SEC), Tennessee's football program could soon face a transition if third-year head coach Derek Dooley is not retained. From afar, Harris has seen the issues facing the program. They prompted him to ask some tough questions of his lead recruiter, receivers coach Darin Hinshaw.

"I asked," Harris said, referring to Tennessee's struggles and reports of a pending coaching change. "He told me, 'Don't worry about it.' He told me if anything is going to happen, he would let me know beforehand.

"I was worried at first. Coach Hinshaw was one of the main reasons I committed to Tennessee. My relationship with him is unbelievable, so if he got fired I would automatically think to look at other schools."

Harris said he didn't know what schools he would consider if Tennessee had to replace its third coach in five years. He would certainly be in a tough situation since he plans on enrolling in college in January.

Harris chose Tennessee over Southern California, Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State. He has been loyal to Tennessee by ignoring interest from other schools. A coaching change, however, would be something far different than he ever expected.

"I would hate to decommit from any program but if that case was presented, I don't know what I would do," he said.

Schools have kept in touch with Harris despite his allegiance to the Vols. Clearly, there are some strong options still available for the 6-foot-3, 190-pound prospect.

There are two Big Ten teams in line. Harris said his mother has recently spoken to Michigan recruiters. Harris also hears about Ohio State. His good friend, Taivon Jacobs, is committed to the Buckeyes. The receiver from District Heights (Md.) Suitland certainly could be an influence on Harris if he decides to look around.

Harris said Maryland has also been in contact with his mother. Then, there's another school that has made a late push, likely in light of Tennessee's struggles.

"Miami tried to offer me a few weeks ago ... I kind of like cut off the conversation ... I was like, 'Thanks, Coach, but no thanks. I'm fully committed,' " Harris said.

Harris' high school schedule hasn't allowed him to take an official visit to Tennessee. Still, he follows the Vols.

"Of course I want them to win," Harris said. "They're struggling on the defensive side of the ball. They're the No. 1 passing team [in the SEC]. They throw the ball. They put up points. It just that they can't defends the points. Their defense is a big struggle."

Statistics back that claim. Tennessee has the lowest rated defense in the SEC in points allowed per game and yards allowed per game.

Harris is having much better success. Last week, he caught eight passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. He also kicked the game-winning field goal to help his team advance deeper into the playoffs.