If it’s going to take a credible ground attack to propel the Washington State Cougars into serious Pac-12 North title contention over the next few seasons, the Cougars may have found the ideal player to curb their running-game woes inside Tulare County — Tulare Union senior Romello Harris.
Harris gave his verbal commitment to Washington State on Thursday.
“It felt like a great fit,” Harris said. “I really feel comfortable in their offense. (Tulare Union runs) the same offense pretty much — similar plays, blocking schemes, formations. …It was the school for me.”
Tulare Union coach Darren Bennett concurs with his star player’s assessment.
“He possesses the three tools that (Washington State) looks for in (its) running backs — he can run the ball, he can pass block and he can catch the ball. He’s a perfect fit,” Bennett said.
Harris was widely regarded as one of the top overall players in the state for the Class of 2016, and one of the nation’s top running backs:
•He is rated a consensus three-star recruit by the nation’s top four recruiting services (247sports.com, ESPN.com, Rivals.com, Scout.com).
•According to the national composite rankings by 247sports.com, Harris ranked as the nation’s No. 42 running back and the No. 70 overall player in California.
•ESPN had Harris as the nation’s No. 61 running back and No. 72 overall player in California.
“I’ve wanted to be in the Pac-12 since I was a little kid. I’ve always wanted to play in the Pac-12, and to find the perfect fit like this is a dream,” Harris said.
Washington State has been in dire need of a quality running back for quite some time.
Although the Cougars enjoyed an outstanding season in 2015 — 8-4 record, wins over Oregon and UCLA, possible Holiday Bowl bid — they ranked No. 172 in the FBS in yards rushing per game (79.9). But Washington State’s rushing average did markedly improve from 1.8 yards per carry in 2014 (ranked No. 127) to 3.6 yards per carry in 2015 (ranked No. 110).
Harris isn’t concerned about Washington State’s utilization of its running back corps.
“The running backs split carries, but they’re always getting their touches. If it’s not carrying the ball, they’re getting their touches on screen passes, other pass plays. They find ways to get the ball in the running backs’ hands quickly. And I like that offense,” Harris said.
Harris has been a top priority for Washington State for a year. The two coaches primarily responsible for recruiting Harris were offensive line coach Clay McGuire and receiver coach Graham Harrell, a former star quarterback at Texas Tech.
Harris posted a picture on Twitter Thursday that had him in between McGuire and Harrell in front of a Christmas tree. Harris also said he’s been in contact with Washington State head coach Mike Leach.
Although Washington and Duke were considered the early front-runners for Harris on the recruiting trail, Washington State had emerged as a top candidate to land Harris by the end of the spring.
Harris has paid extensive attention to Washington State this season, and watched the Cougars defeat UCLA in the Rose Bowl on Nov. 14. He plans on taking his official visit to Washington State in January. He is scheduled to sign with Washington State on National Signing Day (Feb. 3).
“It fells great to make this decision. The pressure is off,” Harris said. “I couldn’t go a couple of days without people asking when I was committing, or who I was committing to. I had people tell me I should go here and there. It was crazy.”
Tulare County’s presence in Pac-12 football grows stronger with Harris’ commitment.
Harris is set to join two other county alums in the Pac-12 — Stanford junior linebacker Kevin Palma (Mission Oak) and Oregon State redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus McMaryion (Dinuba), the 2012 Times-Delta/Advance-Register Bob Mathias Award winner.
“I’m really happy for him. All the work he put in to be in this position was something else. You never had to get on him about working hard,” Bennett said.
Chicago Bears receiver and Tulare native Marquess Wilson had a decorated career at Washington State. Wilson, a 2010 Tulare Union graduate, set a school record at Washington State with 3,207 yards receiving (ranked amongst the top 15 in Pac-12 history) and was second in receptions (189) and touchdown catches (23).
Leach and Washington State cannot comment on Harris until National Signing Day because of NCAA rules.