The linebacker didn't have any NCAA Division I offers until the Bruins made a visit to Sammamish last week.
Hayden Harris was in disbelief at first.
You don’t grow up idolizing coach Chip Kelly and his innovations with the spread-option offense to get a call from the coach himself and play it cool. Especially not when the call is about you accepting a football scholarship to play for Kelly.
“I was star-struck, like, wow, this is really happening to me,” Harris said of the Monday call.
Previously, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Eastside Catholic linebacker didn’t have any Division I offers and was being recruited as a preferred walk-on for UCLA. The situation quickly changed after coaches visited the Sammamish campus last week.
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By Wednesday, Harris was seated alongside teammate Jason Medeiros signing a national letter of intent to play for Kelly and the Bruins.
Medeiros, a 6-2, 265-pound lineman, signed with Air Force.
“People (criticize) that UCLA came in late,” Crusaders coach Jeremy Thielbahr said. “This is the way Chip Kelly does it. He’s making his own evaluations, he has his own certain criteria and he’s executing on that. … He sees something in Hayden. Obviously the 6-5 frame, the speed, the explosiveness and the talent is amazing.”
If there’s a downside, it’s that Harris isn’t playing for Kelly at his dream position — quarterback. Harris began his football career emulating former Oregon QB Marcus Mariota running Kelly’s electric offense that helped him compile a 49-16 record with the Ducks (2009-12).
Thielbahr started talking to Harris about switching positions last season because he felt he’d be a better fit on defense. But injuries to Zach Lewis (ankle) and Michael Franklin (collar bone) moved Harris back under center.
Harris led Eastside to the Class 3A state quarterfinals, passing for 785 yards and 10 touchdowns with two interceptions in nine games.
With Franklin healthy this season, Harris played primarily on defense. On a team flooded with highly touted recruits, Harris made an impact on both sides of the ball.
He had two rushing touchdowns and a TD catch on offense while totaling 37 tackles — seven for a loss — on defense with one sack. The Crusaders won the Class 3A state championship and Saturday will play in the GEICO State Champions Bowl Series on ESPNU.
“It was very easy for him to get overshadowed by all of the big names,” said Medeiros, a team captain. “Especially playing some receiver and linebacker opposite of (four-star receiver) Gee Scott Jr. and (five-star linebacker) J.T. Tuimoloau. I’m glad Hayden got his credit where credit is due. He definitely deserves this.”
Medeiros anchored a line that helped Eastside average 369 yards and 38.8 points per game. Joining the Air Force has been a lifelong dream, providing an opportunity to serve his country and continue playing football.
Surrounded by family and some teammates Wednesday, Harris and Medeiros beamed like the kids they were when they met as eighth graders on the Eastside campus. With a slight tweak in Kelly being at UCLA and not Oregon, the players completed those childhood dreams of playing in college.
Harris, who plans to study economics, was particularly happy the NCAA approved a three-day, early signing period in December. He said the excitement is too much to wait for the traditional signing day in February.
“It was hard to give up playing quarterback,” Harris said. “But playing defense and helping the team win a championship was my ultimate goal. Getting that done was a great addition to my legacy here. Now I get to go to a school with great academics, a great football program and a great head coach.”
Signing on the dotted line
Where’s where high-school football across the state signed on Wednesday (rankings according to 247Sports.com).
Player (ranking),Pos,High School,College
Dylan Morris (1),QB,Graham-Kapowsin,Washington
Nathaniel Kalepo (2),OL,Rainier Beach,Washington
Darien Chase (3),ATH,Union,Nebraska
Orin Patu (4),LB,Rainier Beach,Cal
Cale Millen (5),QB,Mount Si,Oregon
Patrick Utschinski (8),OL,Walla Walla,Washington State
Alphonzo Tuputala (9),LB,Federal Way,Washington
Trey Davis (10),CB,Federal Way,USC
Jaymason Willingham (11),ATH,Steilacoom,Utah State
Ma’ake Fifita (26),DL,Glacier Peak,Washington State
Soli Paleso’o (35),ATH,Fife,Eastern Washington
Corbin Walker (35),ATH,Hazen,Montana
Aric Davison (36),OL,Richland,Utah State
Xavier Guillory (49),WR,Lewis & Clark,Air Force
Davion Gaines (50),CB,Stadium,Portland State
Hayden Harris (51),LB,Eastside Catholic,UCLA
Xavier Mason (52),WR,Stadium,Sacramento State
Jeremiah Palaita (59),LB,Decatur,Air Force
Joe Green (62),QB,Skyline,San Diego State
Jason Medeiros (63),OL,Eastside Catholic,Air Force
Dawson Ingraham (64),TE,Camas, Eastern Washington
Brock Harrison (84),LB,Ridgefield,Eastern Washington
Johnny Barthel (89),OL,Bellevue,Montana
Dumitru Salagor (NR),OL,Union,Montana
Jacob McGourin (NR),DL,Cheney,Montana
Tanner Brooks (NR),LB,Mount Spokane,Idaho