Machai Harris sits in the stands at Lakewood High School on Oct. 10 in Arlington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Machai Harris sits in the stands at Lakewood High School on Oct. 10 in Arlington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

First-year Lakewood receiver catching on

Michai Harris set a school record with 236 receiving yards last week.

Anfernee Gurley gashed the Lakewood football team for 190 yards and three touchdowns in a 2015 game. Three years later, those same highlights helped Cougars coach Dan Teeter convince Michai Harris to turn out for football for the first time in his high school career.

Teeter observed Harris’ athleticism on the basketball court in the winter and on the track during the spring, and thought about what it would take to convince him to play football. Sean Phillips, a wide receiver and defensive back for the Cougars and one of Harris’ closest friends, pestered him about joining, but couldn’t muster any commitment.

Last spring Phillips joined Harris in Teeter’s classroom before track practice, and Teeter gave his pitch. On the projector Teeter fired up highlights of Gurley, the former Archbishop Murphy star and current Eastern Washington University football player. As Gurley darted and weaved through defenders on the screen, Teeter interjected, claiming that this was his vision for Harris on the gridiron.

Harris was intrigued.

“When he told me that I was in shock,” Harris said. “I never thought I could be that good.”

“I would always tell him, and he would listen to me, but he didn’t always believe in himself,” Phillips said. “After that meeting, he was like, ‘OK, I’m in.’”

Teeter’s vision has paid off for the Cougars. The senior wideout leads Lakewood in receiving yards (303) and total touchdowns (six). In the Cougars’ one-point loss to Archbishop Murphy in Week 6, Harris set a school record with 236 yards on 12 receptions.

“He obviously didn’t have the same football experience that Anfernee had, but I saw a lot of the same skills from the basketball court and so forth,” Teeter said.

Harris’ road to Lakewood was a windy one. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Harris moved to Marysville when he was in middle school because his father Michael, a member of the United States Army, was transferred to the area.

Harris moved back to the Richmond area for high school, but transferred back to Lakewood two years ago while his family remained in Virginia.

He’s been hosted by his friend Alex Coleman and Coleman’s family.

“It’s an extremely good blessing,” Harris said. “I don’t think I could have done it if it wasn’t for Alex and his family. They make me feel like a part of their family, include me in family dinners and everything. Family group chats, I’m always in all of them and they make me feel like I’m one of their sons.”

The three-sport senior was primarily a basketball player growing up, picking up track last season to enhance his speed. Now that he’s unlocked some of his potential in football, Harris is open to playing any of the three sports at the next level.

Harris is growing by leaps and bounds on the gridiron for the Cougars (3-3, 0-3 Northwest Conference 2A Sky Division). His involvement in the team’s offense has mostly been with jet sweeps, bubble screens and slants as he continues to adjust to the game.

In last week’s game, the longest of Harris’ receptions was eight yards down field; his speed did the rest.

In the stands watching Harris’ record-breaking performance was Austin Lane, Lakewood’s starting quarterback last season, who is now at Central Washington University. Later that night, Teeter sent Lane a text message that read, “I bet you wish (Harris) turned out a year earlier.” Lane responded, “Yeah, no kidding.”

Harris’ performance prompted Gurley’s former head coach at Archbishop Murphy, Jerry Jensen, to label the Cougars’ receiver a “difference maker.”

Teeter’s vision in his initial pitch to Harris has come full circle.

“We kind of gave him a vision of what we thought he was capable of,” Teeter said. “Now he’s a pretty special player. It’s so fun to watch.”

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