Special to SEGAZINE
Tyler Harris wants to follow in Blake Bortles‘ footsteps as the next great quarterback to come out of UCF.
Harris, a 6-foot-4 signal caller from South Georgia’s Pierce County, joined the Knights’ 2014 recruiting class over the weekend, switching from a prior commitment to SMU. Earlier in his recruitment, Harris had picked up offers from the likes of Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi State.
UCF didn’t initially pursue a quarterback when they began recruiting prospects last spring, choosing instead to assess the landscape during the season. After careful evaluation, Harris become their top priority.
“It actually started maybe a month ago when Coach Tyson Summers got in contact with me,” Harris said. “We started talking a little bit and he invited me down to a game.”
Harris and his father attended UCF’s 19-14 win against Houston on Nov. 9, where they were able to speak at-length with UCF offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe.
“We spoke to Coach Taaffe before the game and he laid it all out for us,” Harris said. “They obviously only had three quarterbacks on scholarship and they were looking to get one in the 2014 class. I was the one they wanted. That made me feel good. That played into my commit.”
Taaffe told him that he loved what he saw on film.
“He told me I was a big, physical kid who had the arm,” Harris said. “I can throw wherever it needs to go. He liked my pocket presence and how I can extend plays when I need to.”
That description sounds a lot like UCF’s current starting quarterback, whom Harris briefly met following the game.
“I think we’re both big, physical kids,” Harris said of Bortles. “I think he’s a little bit taller and weighs a little more, but when I’m in college I’ll put on weight. I think our styles of play are very similar… Watching (Bortles) play, I like the way he manages the game. He knows how to read defenses. He checks a lot of the plays. He has great knowledge of the game. He can extend plays and get the ball down field. That stood out to me.”
As for the experience, Harris says he was amazed by the wild game atmosphere.
“We sat near the student section,” Harris said. “I really liked how they were pumped up the whole time. They call it the ‘Bounce House’ because everybody gets excited and jumps around, and the stadium starts bouncing. I loved that.”
Harris returned home to Blackshear, Ga., excited about the trip, but his immediate focus shifted back to his senior football season as Pierce County was embarking on a playoff run. They beat Thomson a week ago, but had their season ended by Callaway this past Friday.
Now free to focus on his future, Harris and his father felt UCF was the best fit.
“There were a few things,” Harris said about the decision. “First, UCF is real close to home. I felt really comfortable there. It’s about three hours from home, so my family can come down and visit. The next thing was being real comfortable with the coaching staff. I had a good talk with Coach Taaffe and he had laid out the quarterback situation. I felt comfortable with it. I think I have a chance to come in and compete. Lastly, academics. UCF is known for its good academic program and that played into it as well.”
Harris, who is thinking about majoring in sports medicine, also loves the idea of playing for an up and coming program. The Knights have emerged as a national player this season, ranked in the top 25 and currently on track to reach a BCS bowl game.
“They have some big wins,” Harris said. “UCF is on the rise. I look forward to being a part of it in the future.”
Over the past few weeks, he spent many nights on the phone with Coach Summers, who is also from South Georgia.
“I developed a great relationship with him,” Harris said. “He knows our situation and how we are here in Georgia. He told me UCF is a real great place to be and that’s where he’d want to be if he was choosing to go somewhere. That made me feel good.”
He won’t be alone either. Seven of UCF’s 13 commits are from Georgia, including several from the southern part of the state.
“That was another thing I really liked about it,” Harris said. “When I went down on my visit, some of the guys reached out, like Mac Loudermilk and Wyatt Miller, and told me UCF would be a real good place to go. I felt comfortable there. That also played into my decision. I just think going there with all these South Georgia guys, we’ve got each other’s backs because that’s what we do. I like that.”
The commitment was finalized with a call to head coach George O’Leary.
“He was definitely excited,” Harris said. “He told me he was glad that I was coming on board. Really excited. He looks forward to the future and I look forward to the future as well.”
A January enrollee, Harris is anxious to begin life as a college student and jump into football workouts. He hopes to earn playing time as a freshman and eventually become Bortles’ successor.
“I’m a competitor,” Harris said. “I like to come in and compete. Blake has established himself there. It’s his program and obviously when I come down he’ll still have the job, but I’m just looking forward to doing whatever I can to get playing time. That’s what I want to do. I don’t like being on the sidelines. I’ll put in my work, do my time, then when my time comes I’ll do everything I can to do my best.”
Harris completed his senior season with nearly 2,800 passing yards, 21 passing touchdowns and seven rushing.