Harris delighted his coach at Newnan High with his indifference.
“The coaches at Tech knew, his family knew, he told us,” Chip Walker said. “That was it. He was good with it. It just tells you a little bit about his character and what he wants to achieve. I think especially in today’s time, when everybody wants to do all that other stuff, he’s not worried about it. He’s worried about playing football and he’s worried about getting an education and he’s worried about being the best person he can be.”
Besides soft hands, an appetite for perimeter blocking and good size for his position (6-foot-2 and 215 pounds), Harris brings to Tech a humility and drive that figure to serve him well in his time in a Yellow Jackets uniform.
Harris’ guidance counselor at Newnan, Mike Barnes, saw both qualities in the two years he worked with him.
“Overall, he’s just a really, really good kid,” Barnes said. “He’s humble, he’s a ‘Yes, sir/no ma’am kind of a student. Not really arrogant. Working in a (Class) 7A school, sometimes your top athletes kind of have a little arrogance about themselves, and he definitely doesn’t have that.”
After the first semester of his senior year, Harris was on track to graduate with honors, but had a chance to earn high honors.
“After he talked with his family, he came back and said, ‘Let’s do this,’” Barnes said.
At a time when classmates were coasting to the graduation finish line, Harris picked up an advanced-placement (college-level) economics class and dropped a less rigorous course to earn the necessary points. Needing a 95 average for his four-year transcript, Harris pushed himself to the end and finished with “95 and some change,” Barnes said.
“You see (that sort of ambition) in girls, but you don’t really see it with the young men,” Barnes said. “Just for him to go after a goal like that is not something you see on an everyday basis. It is rare and it just goes to show he and his parents value education.”
Harris is the second of three. His older brother Brandon is a sheriff’s deputy and his younger brother Joshua is a rising sophomore at Newnan.
Georgia Tech freshman wide receiver Pejé Harris (right) with his younger brother Joshua, a rising sophomore at Newnan High, and his mother Vera, principal at Evans Middle School in Coweta County.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Harris is the son of two educators. His mother Vera is the principal of a Coweta County middle school. His father Patrick Sr. is a P.E. teacher at another middle school in the county and coached Pejé (pronounced “P.J.”, short for Patrick Jr.) in football. (Harris’ parents are divorced but remain on good terms.)
“I want to be smart,” Harris said. “I don’t want to known for football, or just football. I want to be known for, ‘Oh, that kid Pejé, he’s great at football, but he was good at getting his work done. He’s high honors.’ That meant so much to me.”
Vera, who played basketball at Southern Miss, is a football nut. She is the rare mother who was quite happy to see her son graduate from flag football to the tackle version because flag “just wasn’t going to cut it for Mama.”
She seems cut out to be the mother of a Tech wide receiver, for whom 20 catches is a big season.
“Our big thing with him was asking him to make sure that he didn’t focus so much on whether or not the ball was being thrown to him,” she said. “To focus more on doing whatever your job is at that moment. If you’re supposed to be getting open to catch the ball, get open. If you’re supposed to be blocking for the running back, then block. Whatever your job is. He’s answered that pretty well.”
Harris takes coaching well, whether from his mother or others. He attended the one-day camps of Tech great Calvin Johnson for four years, and listening to him recount the experience, it’s clear he wasn’t there just for a selfie and to bask in Johnson’s greatness. Sitting in a bagel shop in Newnan, Harris could still recount lessons that Johnson imparted. For instance, watch the cornerback’s hips.
“It’ll tell when they’re about to flip their hips (come out of their backpedal to start running alongside a receiver), when they’re about to break down (prepare to change direction),” he said. “Small things like that, small details like that really help you with your route running and blocking.”
Georgia Tech freshman wide receiver Pejé Harris attended Calvin Johnson's wide receiver camp four times and paid close attention to the Tech great's lessons. Harris is to Johnson’s immediate right. (Courtesy Pejé Harris)
Harris’ father recalled his son getting instruction from Johnson on how to set himself at the line of scrimmage. Sure enough, when the season began, Patrick (who played football at Tennessee State) noticed that his son had incorporated the tip into his pre-snap stance.
A hobby of Harris’ is looking up wide-receiver drills on YouTube. He found one about how NFL legend Jerry Rice improved his pass-catching ability with hand-stretching exercises. He was skeptical at first, but was diligent in trying it, setting a daily alarm on his phone to push back his thumbs.
“It’s like your hands can get flexible,” he said. “Just like, say, your legs can be flexible, your hands can do the same thing and stretch out.”
By judgment of recruiting rankings, Harris isn’t much. He was the No. 154 prospect in Georgia (according to 247Sports Composite). But Walker, who has had at least one former player on his roster at Tech every year since 2004 (Johnson, Andrew Gardner, Isaiah Johnson, Corey Griffin and Trent Sellers), calls Harris a perfect fit.
“He’s a big target. He’s got really good hands. He has much better speed than people think he has,” Walker said. “And he’s able to catch the ball in traffic and then, once you get it out to him, those little corners have a tough time getting him down.”
And if you don’t believe Harris’ mother that he can block, Walker vouches for him, too.
Harris was “a big reason why our backs and our other receivers were able to have the outstanding seasons they had, because he’s such an outstanding perimeter blocker,” Walker said. “He’s so physical.”
Walker said that Harris could have received many more scholarship offers had he pursued them. However, after he committed, he showed no interest in fielding more offers, Walker said.
“That’s just another thing that, to me, is refreshing about him,” Walker said.
Harris will have a challenge to win playing time at receiver at Tech, where he is one of five freshmen or sophomores at the position. Whether he manages to win a starting job or not, chances are he won’t shortchange himself in his attempt to do so. A somewhat lacking Twitter feed and a sparkling transcript are among the indicators.
Said his father Patrick, “He just flies under the radar and just wants to be the best he can be.”
Georgia Tech freshman wide receiver Pejé Harris also is a talented artist. He decorated a pair of his sneakers himself and has done similar projects for friends.
The seventh and final story in a series of profiles of members of Tech’s incoming freshman class.
Why Tech freshman Dontae Smith draws his motivation from his mother
Georgia Tech’s James Graham: ‘I think about him every day’
LOOKING AHEAD TO THE COMING SEASON
7 key returning Tech players on defense