Football: Lyons’ Matt Harris stays near home, picks Northwestern

Story Image Northlake, 10/21/11--Lion's wide receiver Matthew Harris (left) shakes off Frank Habura of the Leyden Eagles in Northlake, IL on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2011. | Shauna Bittle~for Sun-Times Media

Staying close to home was too much of an allure for Lyons two-sport star Matt Harris to resist.

The standout defensive back/wide receiver and Class 3A state runner-up in the long jump made a verbal commitment to Northwestern after meeting with coach Pat Fitzgerald and his staff Thursday morning.

Harris picked Northwestern over Wisconsin and also received offers from Minnesota and Illinois earlier this spring. Harris said Northwestern is recruiting him as a cornerback.

“I’ll stay more close to home there,” Harris said. “My family can watch me and I’ll have an education that will set myself for life. I’ll be set with a Northwestern degree for good after playing for the football team.”

Harris also earned offers from several Mid-American Conference schools after having a standout track and field season in the spring. He finished second in the state long jump (23-feet, 8 1/2 inches) to Wheaton North’s Zach Gordon and placed 12th in the 110-meter high hurdles (14.91).

The 5-foot-11, 170-pound senior from La Grange will be a bigger two-way threat for Lyons this season after rushing 60 times for 350 yards and three TDs last season while catching 52 passes for 707 yards and four TDs. Harris is entering his third season after leading Lyons to consecutive Class 8A state quarterfinal appearances.

Harris becomes the fourth in-state recruit for the Wildcats, following the state’s top quarterback prospect, Maine South’s Matt Alviti, and offensive linemen Blake King of Minooka and Tyler Lancaster of Plainfield East, according to Rivals.com.

“Obviously, this is very exciting,” Lyons coach Kurt Weinberg said. “I’m very happy for Matt, first and foremost he’s a tremendous human being. There were a lot of schools that wanted him. Northwestern does not take kids that are jerks.”

Harris will become the second Big Ten player from Lyons in recent years. Former three-sport star Eddie Viliunas (football, basketball, baseball) is entering his senior year this fall as Illinois’ projected starting tight end for new coach Todd Beckman. Viliunas was the 2007 West Suburban Silver Conference offensive player of the year.

He is the older brother of recent Lyons graduate and Illinois freshman Alexis Viliunas, who led Lyons to the 2010 Class 4A state volleyball championship and was named 2011 Chicago Sun-Times player of the year.

Harris made at least one unofficial visit to Northwestern before meeting Fitzgerald with his family Thursday. He plans on making an official visit in the fall. Signing day for football recruits is Feb. 6.

“Northwestern stuck out,” said Harris, who is undecided about what he’ll study. “The players all got along well. They are a big family. I got along with the coaches. That was one thing that stuck out for me.”

At the West Suburban 7-on-7 scrimmage June 28 at Addison Trail, Harris said he received four offers from Big Ten schools and wanted make his decision before Lyons opened the season Aug. 24 at Stevenson.

“He wanted to concentrate on his senior football season,” Weinberg said. “He did not want to let that looming. It takes the weight (of recruiting) off the rest of his shoulders.”

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