John Gondak and the Penn State Nittany Lions piqued his interest the most.

“When I went there, I was comfortable there,” Harris said. “I liked the coach. I liked the team. I loved everything about it.”

By signing his National Letter of Intent on Wednesday, the multi-talented Lewiston High School senior confirmed he will further his academic and athletic career with the Nittany Lions in State College, Penn.

“Penn State has always been one of my favorite schools, and when I went to visit, I was comfortable there,” Harris said. ” It wasn’t just one thing that helped me decide. Some schools like to focus on one discipline — distance, sprints, whatever — and I like that at Penn State. They really focus on the team as a whole, and that makes people want to go there.”

“That’s one thing we look for, we really try to take the total team approach to track and field,” Gondak said. “Our cross country team right now is one of the top 25 in the country and among the top in the Big 10. In track and field, there’s 21 events, and we work to have strong athletes in all of those events.

Harris’ decision was far from easy. One of the top runners in the country in the middle distance disciplines — particularly in the 800-meter run — dozens of schools at all levels courted the Lewiston speedster.


“It’s something people dream about when they’re little,” Harris said. “I really wish everybody could experience it. It was a little stressful at times, meeting all the coaches, seeing all the people, all of the colleges, but it really was fun.”

“I am extremely excited for Isaiah,” Lewiston Athletic Director Jason Fuller said. “He is a young man who has worked extremely hard in the classroom and on the track. It is extremely fitting that he will get the opportunity to continue his academic and athletic experience at the collegiate level. Penn State is an outstanding institution that will continue to allow Isaiah the opportunity to meet his personal goals.”

Achieving those goals, Harris said, will be easier with such a deep pool of top middle-distance runners on his own team.

“It’s tough running really good times by yourself,” he said. “I could see it this year in cross country, training with Osman (Doorow), how much better I was able to get just because I was pushed in practice. You run faster in workouts, that leads to faster times in meets.”

Harris will have plenty of elite company at Penn State. Last year, three runners on the Nittany Lions’ squad officially had 800-meter times faster than Harris’ personal best of 1:51.47, and three others were slower. Harris’ 400-meter times also fall in the middle of the team’s range. With new recruits and transfers — including Harris — the team is going to be even stronger.

“Middle distance has been strong the last many years here at Penn State,” Gondak said. “I believe right now we have seven or eight guys who have all gone 1:49 in the 800 before.”


Harris rose to stardom seemingly overnight at Lewiston High School as a sophomore, but only because he wasn’t allowed to compete as a freshman.

“I went on vacation right before grade check, so I couldn’t get on the team,” Harris told the Sun Journal in a previous interview. “I did it in middle school. I did rec track growing up. (2013) wasn’t my first year doing track. A lot of people think that because they didn’t know. I’m used to track.”

After a stunning upset to win the 800-meter run in 2013, Harris was a well-watched commodity as a junior. Fresh off successful cross country running and basketball seasons, Harris applied himself heavily to track and field.

The results were staggering. Harris broke the Class A record in the 800-meter run at the state championship meet (1:52.96). He also won the 200-meter dash in a photo finish, and helped a relay team to a second-place finish in his final event of the day.

Harris followed that a week later with a Maine- and personal-best time of 1:51.47 to win the 800 at the New England Track and Field Championships in Bridgewater, Mass.

“With his leg speed and his willingness to train aerobically, through the cross country season and through the winter, that’s a great combination for success as an 800 runner,” Gondak said.


The Penn State coach is also happy, in a way, that Harris hasn’t spent his whole athletic career training only for track and field.

“He hasn’t been training for five or six years exclusively in the sport, and he’s been able to have the success he’s had,” Gondak said. “When we bring him in, and can work with him on training year-round, his potential is limitless.”

The 2014 fall cross country season was tough on Harris, who spent many of his weekends shuttling across the country on official school visits, including trips to Louisiana State University, the University of Connecticut, Georgetown — and Penn State.

Harris ran in only a few 5-kilometer races, yet consistently finished among the top five runners.

Despite the signing, Harris said Wednesday he has no plans to give up his other love — basketball.

“I’m definitely playing, there’s no question,” Harris said. “I talked to the coaches everywhere I went and asked if they had a problem if I played basketball this year, and none of them did. The team should be pretty good this year, I’m pretty excited.”

Gondak agreed, saying, “It’s the last time he’ll be able to play with his team as a senior, and that’s fine. We’ll get him going full time when he gets here.”

First, of course, is one final spring track and field season for the Blue Devils.

“I’m definitely still motivated there,” Harris said. “Especially for track. I want to look good for the coaches who showed faith in me. I want to look good for future teammates. And I want to do well for myself.”

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