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High School | General | 3/25/2020

Hopeful Harris ready to dive-in

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Calvin Harris (Perfect Game)

A year ago at this time, Perfect Game All-American catcher Calvin Harris was ratcheting up his game while on the way to an MVP season playing in the long-running Iowa-based PG Spring League (PGSL).

And he had actually gotten one weekend of play in at the start of this year’s PGSL season before all team sports activities across the country were brought to a halt by the novel coronavirus global pandemic.

It’s a difficult, uncertain time for everyone, even for an 18-year-old athlete like Harris, an all-state performer in both baseball and football at Western Dubuque High School in Epworth, Iowa.

With the PG Spring League now suspended, Harris is doing his best to stay in baseball-ready shape. He’s treating the hiatus as an extended offseason, which involves weight-lifting four days a week, and hitting and throwing six or seven days a week.

The Iowa High School Athletic Association has faced criticism in the past for sanctioning only a summer baseball season – the first legal day of practice for the 2020 season is May 4 – but in this case the state might actually be ahead of the curve.

Harris is missing out on the PGSL but he’s staying busy and keeping things positive while holding out hope that he will still be able play his senior season of high school baseball.

“I’m feeling good,” he told PG during a telephone conversation last week, speaking from his home in the small northeast Iowa town of Peosta because his school has been shut down. “I’m just hoping we can get out on the field as soon as possible.”

Fields of play, both the baseball and football versions, have proved to be a comfortable home for Harris. Playing at an athletic 6-foot-1, 200-pounds on the diamond, Harris possesses a strong left-handed swing, a strong right-handed arm and legs that can propel him to a sub-6.7-second clocking in the 60-yard dash.

He is ranked the No. 81 overall national prospect in the 2020 class and No. 2 overall in Iowa behind only PG All-American right-hander/third baseman Carter Baumler out of West Des Moines Dowling Catholic HS.

An Ole Miss signee, Harris participated in nearly 30 PG events between the summers of 2015 and 2019 and stood out at each one. A 6.68-second runner in the 60 with a 92 mph arm, he has been included on seven PG showcase Top Prospect Lists, including at both the 2018 and 2019 PG National Pre-Draft.

He doesn’t play much travel ball because of Iowa’s summer high school season, but was named all-tournament at three fall events, including at the 2017 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla

One of the crowning achievements of Harris’ PG career came early on when he was invited to take part in the inaugural 2016 PG 14u Select Baseball Festival in Fort Myers, Fla., which included 40 of the top 14u age-eligible players in the country. Harris smacked a two-run single in the West’s 3-1 victory over the East and was named the game’s MVP.

He was one of a half-dozen 2019 PG All-Americans who also played in the Select Festival, and he said that being a part of both events did feel a bit like coming full-circle.

“Coming in first before my freshman year in high school (at the Select Fest) and then before my senior year in high school there at the end, it did kind of feel that way,” Harris said. “It was really kind of neat to see that develop and get that phone call (for the Classic).”

The 2019 spring, summer and fall sports seasons were especially gratifying for Harris, as he emerged as one of the top athletes in the state of Iowa.

It started in the spring when Harris was named the MVP of the Iowa Spring League – it was his second ISL season – while playing for Iowa Select 2019 Sole/Frazier, the league champion. He then attended the PG National Pre-Draft Showcase in Cedar Rapids where he earned Top Prospect List recognition, which in turned earned him an invitation to the PG National Showcase in Phoenix.

“The National Showcase was unbelievable, and it was pretty eye-opening to see all that talent from across the country,” Harris said. “I met a lot of really good guys and I learned a lot from some really, really good, intelligent coaches. I thought it was a tremendous experience all-around. …

“You can build relationships that will last a lot longer than the game of baseball will for you,” he added. “That’s really special because you can learn a lot from that, too; it’s just really neat.”

The 2019 Iowa high school season was already about two weeks old when Harris attended the National Showcase and once he re-joined his Western Dubuque teammates he was really ready to go. He played in 40 games for the 32-10 Bobcats – they lost in the quarterfinal round of the Iowa Class 4A state tournament – and slashed .408/.593/.709 with seven home runs, 10 doubles, 40 RBI and 19 runs scored.

Harris’ next and last baseball stop in 2019 was at the PG All-American Classic in San Diego, where he was joined by 50 other top class of 2020 prospects for the nationally televised prep all-star game. That experience was also second-to-none for the talented athlete and this time it served as a springboard into his senior football season at Western Dubuque. And what a season it was.

The team’s quarterback, Harris led the Bobcats to the Iowa Class 3A state championship with a perfect 13-0 record. He completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,246 yards and 29 touchdowns (only two interceptions) and rushed for another 12 TDs; he was named The Cedar Rapids Gazette’s Player of the Year.

“Words can’t describe it, to be honest with you,” Harris said of the thrill winning the state championship brought. “It was really special for us and the neat thing was that we had a whole community behind us all season – that’s what small-town football is all about.”

It’s worth noting that the Bobcats played for a football state championship in 2018, too, but lost in the title game. Harris, who also started at quarterback as a junior, suffered a concussion in that game but didn’t think twice about returning to the football team for the 2019 season.

“I love the game of football,” he said. “I’d do anything to get another shot out there.”

That said, Harris has no plans to play football at Ole Miss for new coach Lane Kiffin. Instead – depending, of course, on what happens with the MLB Amateur Draft – he’ll do everything he can to help head coach Mike Bianco and the Rebels’ baseball program.

“The biggest thing for me (about Ole Miss) is the people they have in the program; they have phenomenal people,” he said, specifically citing coaches Bianco, Carl Laffery and Mike Clement. “Those guys were all catchers, too, so that was really great and they’ve been churning out some tremendous catching prospects. …

“The types of people that they invite to be around their program are first-class people and that was really special for me,” he added. “And then the atmosphere, the fans, were unbelievable; it’s second-to-none.”

As a youth, Harris played some shortstop and first base, and even did a little pitching, as well, but he’s been a primary catcher since he was a seventh-grader. So here he is, both a catcher and a quarterback, two of the most important positions in two very different team sports.

“(When catching) you’re involved with every play and, yeah, you’re kind of the quarterback of the baseball team; I just love it, everything about it,” Harris said before noting that there aspects of the two positions that translate well with one another.

“The big thing is learning leadership. Especially in football, being the quarterback, you really have to direct everybody and let everybody know what’s going on. And the same goes with baseball. So the biggest things are leadership and communication.”

Leadership and communication skills have worked well for Calvin Harris and he looks forward to being able to exhibit those solid character traits throughout whatever transpires during the remainder of 2020.

The PGSL may have been suspended but there is still a chance his senior baseball season at Western Dubuque HS will be played. There’s still a chance he could hear his name called whenever Major League Baseball decides to hold its Amateur Draft and he can still anticipate being in Oxford, Miss., for the start of classes at Ole Miss in the fall.

In the meantime, Harris will continue to do what he does best, and that’s to keep working hard toward achieving his goals. And make no mistake, those goals are still firmly in place.

“Keep your head down and keep working and keep getting after it,” he said, “and hope that some opportunities pop up and we can get back out on the field.”

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