TENINO – Devante Harris was stumped.
Taking a break from a recent football practice in the wide-open grass fields behind Tenino Middle School, Harris leaned against a netless soccer goal, chewing on a question that had him reflecting on his life to this point.
Where would he be if it weren’t for the Pier family? A family that first welcomed him into their Tenino home as a fifth-grader, raising him as one of their own, and calling him their son?
The words eventually came to him.
“Probably down the wrong path,” he said. “Going in and out of juvy (juvenile detention).”
This is Harris, a soft-spoken 17-year-old Tenino High School senior and starting wide receiver in football who is known by his first name inside the 390-student high school and throughout the small Thurston County town.
By now, his gifted athletic talents are well-known – in addition to being a center fielder in baseball who likely could cover the entire outfield by himself and a starting point guard in basketball, he’s best known for scorching opponents in all three phases in football. He already has 1,008 yards receiving and 18 total touchdowns through six games.
And this is the same Harris who didn’t plan on living in Tenino, being best friends with Shane and Yvonne Pier’s youngest son, becoming a permanent member of the their family or calling Tenino home.
No, he didn’t plan on any of that happening seven years ago. But he’s glad it did.
“It’s been pretty good,” he said.
MOVED FROM MIDWEST
A big-city kid from Indianapolis, Ind., Harris moved around a lot throughout the Midwest as a child. His life was unstable for a while. His father is in jail and his older brother is in juvenile detention.
As a fifth-grader, Harris arrived in Tenino with his mother, Anna. A set of grandparents lived on the edge of town. And when he signed up to play youth baseball for the Tenino- and Rochester-based Larch Mountain Little League that year, his coach was Shane Pier. He and his wife, Yvonne, saw a shy, quiet kid with electrifying speed on the basepaths. Their son, Thomas, now a starting running back and linebacker as a freshman on Tenino’s football team, saw an idol and a best friend. Harris soon began spending more and more time at the Pier home – staying there during the week – when Anna moved to Tacoma.
The Piers embraced him, as did the town of Tenino.
“He fit in from the start,” Yvonne Pier said.
The Piers, who both work for the county, have housed three foster children. They also have sons D.J. and Thomas, and Shane’s son from a previous marriage, Shane, Jr.
Harris was never a part of the foster-care system, but Shane and Yvonne became his legal guardians five years ago. Just before then, Harris left Tenino for Indianapolis to be with his mother. That lasted two months. He called the Piers and wanted to come home. Tenino was his home.
“The first thing he did when he got back,” Shane Pier said, “he put on his shorts and went out in the front yard to play wiffle ball.”
Harris attracts attention in whatever sport he plays. When Jeff Zenisek, Tenino’s football coach and athletic director, was interviewing for the two jobs in January 2010, he sat in on a midweek boys basketball game. Harris, then a freshman, caught his eye with his explosive spark off the bench.
“He ignited the court,” Zenisek remembered. “He changed the tempo of the team. … He changed the game.”
Now in his third year as football coach, Zenisek has had the luxury of putting Harris where he fits best. A dual-threat quarterback the past two seasons, Harris was asked by Zenisek about switching positions before the season. A new player had transferred in, quarterback Mac Shaw, which meant Harris’ talents could be used more as a multipurpose player. As a quarterback, Harris tallied more than 2,500 all-purpose yards and earned MVP honors of the 1A Southwest Washington Evergreen Division last season.
Shaw and Harris have put on a show through six games. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Harris has 54 receptions for 1,008 yards and 14 touchdowns. On the ground, he’s picked up 274 yards on 34 carries and scored three touchdowns. He’s also had one interception returned for a touchdown.
Opposing coaches get flustered with Harris’ speed. One opposing team went to great lengths to prepare for it, having players chase a car traveling at a high speed.
“He’s dangerous,” Zenisek said. “He’s so explosive and quick.”
Zenisek said Harris reminds him of Mike Furrey, a player he coached at Northern Iowa. Furrey, at 6-feet and 185 pounds, went on to play seven seasons in the NFL from 2003-09 with the St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions, mainly as a wide receiver and free safety.
Harris has some lofty goals after high school, including going to college; some schools have expressed interest in him for baseball, and others for football. But in the less distant future, he said he feels this is Tenino’s year to do something special in football. Over the past 16 years, the program averaged two wins a season and had only one state playoff berth – 2007 – but this season could change that.
“Hopefully, (we get to) the Tacoma Dome,” he said.
The 2012 season has been a memorable one so far for the Beavers. At 5-1 overall and the co-leader of the 1A Southwest Washington Evergreen Division with Hoquiam at 3-0, the Beavers have a big test tonight when they host Montesano.
With Shane Pier filming each game and Yvonne Pier sitting in the stands, they get to watch both their sons every game night. And on special teams, Devante and Thomas are Tenino’s two deep players back on kickoff and punt returns.
“Devante is a special kid,” Shane Pi er said. “I don’t know who has gotten more out of this deal – him or us.”Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 email@example.com @megwochnick www.theolympian.com/southsoundsports