Speedy Lyons Camper Earns Illini Offer

Matt Harris (Jack Lyman)

It was a pleasure watching the Fighting Illini football summer camp at Lincoln-Way East Monday morning, in part due to the performance of a highly athletic receiver/defensive back from Lyons Township. In addition, former Illini Jon Beutjer is an assistant coach at Lyons. Matt Harris and his coach talk about his UI offer and tremendous potential.

Matt Harris exploded on the scene at the Illinois football camp at Lincoln-Way East Monday. He was so impressive he was offered a scholarship by head coach Tim Beckman afterward.

"It feels good. Eddie Viliunas went to Illinois, and he says it's a great place. I can tell the coaches are like family. That's exactly what I'm looking for, so I'm real interested in them.

"I visited there for a Junior Day. I loved it. What really stood out to me was, the way the weight room was. I'm trying to get bigger, faster and stronger, so that really played a big role in me liking the school.

"It feels good to get the Illinois one under my belt. I really felt at home and good about being back on the field today."

His fourth offer was by far his biggest so far.

"I got an offer from Miami of Ohio, as well as Toledo and North and South Dakota. I've been talking with Northwestern and Wisconsin, so we'll see how it pans out."

Rest assured, news will get out on the exploits of the ultra-athletic Harris. In fact, former Illini quarterback Jon Beutjer coaches at Lyons Township and confirms some Big 10 competition with the UI may ensue.

"He's going up to Wisconsin next week, and their defensive coordinator was in our office watching film. He was extremely impressed. His recruiting is going to start picking up."

Beutjer is effusive in his praise for the 5'-10", 167 pounder.

"Matt is extremely explosive. He's a great football player with great skills and great hips. Most importantly, he's a phenomenal young man. He's a Christian, he works extremely hard and has a great attitude.

"And he's only 16 years old. He just got second in the state two weeks ago, long jumping 23'-8". And he had the longest standing triple jump here today at 32'-1".

He's someone you want on your team. So I think he has all the attributes to be a successful college player, and successful in life as well."

Harris ran 4.35 and 4.37 forties, the fastest times of the day. He showed quick feet in cornerback drills, but Illinois coaches really perked up when he rotated over to offense. His quick cuts and acceleration after the catch were impossible to defend. He has good hands also.

"It felt good to get back on the field. I learned a lot of new things that will really help me as I come into my senior year."

He's humble about his abilities.

"I play both ways in high school. I will play anywhere that helps out the team. I told my coaches wherever they put me, I will work my hardest and do my best."

Not surprisingly, Harris says explosiveness is his best asset on defense. He must have more experience on defense because he's unsure of his strengths offensively.

"I don't know my strengths, but what I really need to work on is going full speed every route, and my cuts and everything. The coaches from Illinois really helped me out a lot."

Lyons Township is counting on him on both sides of the ball, so he's working hard to prepare for his senior season.

"I've been working hard with my quarterback back home. We throw pretty much every day, so it's just like second nature now."

While Harris answered in generalities, the UI could easily be the model he's considering for his college preference.

"Anywhere I can fit in, not too far away from home, and a place where the students feel like a second family."

Illini fans hope to follow Harris closely for several years to come. He's the kind of playmaker a spread offense like Illinois needs to exploit the open field. In the meantime, they can relish Beutjer's success since leaving his alma mater.

"I'm doing great. I'm teaching and coaching at Lyons Township High School. I enjoy working with kids. The students give me an avenue to give back knowledge of football, but also life. I like working with kids and helping them unfold into young men and ladies."

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