Malcolm Drewery still remembers hearing the chatter about the new guy who transferred from DeMatha Catholic School.
Paul Harris, who committed to Tennessee last week, was pegged to be a standout football player and track star. So Drewery went to the football field to see what he had to work with.
“I went out to one one of the games to check him out,” said Drewery, whom Harris calls "Pops."
“First thing I said to him when he came off the field was 'Don't ever take a play off.' ”
The advice didn't stop there. Drewery quickly and willingly accepted the role of mentor for his young pupil after Harris' transfer to Upper Marlboro (Md.) Frederick Douglass
“I think all boys, at some point in their life, need a father or somebody to be around to be a father figure, somebody to help you be a man,” Drewery said. “I know that was important for me.
“Young boys do need that figure, somebody they can depend on, somebody they can get advice from, somebody that can be there for them whenever you need something. I think it's important to find that man you can trust. I know some young boys have trust issues with men.
That relationship and others have paid dividends. By all accounts, Harris is mature beyond his years.
“Off the charts,” Drewery said when asked about Harris' maturity level. “He's very grounded, very committed to the things that he does. He really knows what he wants early on. That helps his maturity level. It's outstanding as far as being focused and being the person that he is.”
That has been evident on the football field. Harris' head coach, J.C. Pinkney, can attest to that.
“Mentally and emotionally, he's a competitive kid,” Pinkney said. “He's a very mature kid. If he's not giving you what you want, he's going to work to do it. He's always looking to please and he always wants to do his job.”
That approach has turned Harris into a coveted prospect. He has refined his game, as proved by the fact that he was selected to attend The Opening this month in Beaverton, Ore.
“Physically, he has the size and he's gifted with hands,” Pinkney said. “He has a lot of range and he's very flexible. He's very capable of making the difficult catch.
Hard work has led to that. Harris attends summer school every day from 8 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., then goes to football training before night school from 5:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. Why? So he can graduate in December and enroll at Tennessee in January.
He has put himself on a strict routine to finish [in December] so he can go down [to Knoxville] ... and get acclimated to the school year as well as the football program,” Carter said.
Most teenagers aren't so dedicated. Faith played a role in his dedication -- and his decision.
Harris began the announcement of his commitment to ESPN with a message: “First, I want to thank God for everything he gave me and all the schools He blessed with offering me. I met a lot of good people and coaches. I just want to thank Him first for allowing me that.”
Harris maintains that his faith didn't help him make the decision, but that it actually made it for him. Carter is hardly surprised her son took such an approach.
“100 percent,” Carter said when asked what role faith played in the commitment. “We're a spiritual family. I always taught him to keep God first. I told him whenever you're unsure to pray about it.”
Harris did just that. Some would say it would take a leap of faith to sign with a program still rebuilding while other football powerhouses are waiting in the wings. Harris doesn't look at it that way at all.
“It was very close,” he said of the decision to pick UT over USC, “but that's when the faith came in. I just prayed and asked God 'What do I need to do for me to succeed?' and the decision came down to Tennessee.”
Let Vols fans rejoice.