Longtime Montclair Immaculate Conception High School track coach Patrick Dyer is not big on hyperbole. So, when he says recent grad Isaiah Harris was "no doubt the best" he's ever coached, that should hold a lot of credence.
"I've been here a very long time ... since 1975," said Dyer, who joked that some people think it's been too long. "But Isaiah is one of the great talents ever in overall jumping events – county or state. It's rare when a kid is outstanding in three jumps but he's first rate in all of his events. Isaiah is the best all-around jumper in school history."
Flattered and humbled by Dyer's highest praises, Harris took it all in stride.
"It's an honor because there were a lot of great athletes before I got there," he said. "It's a great thing to hear."
Dyer said the effusive praise is worthy because Harris, who made Third Team All-State, dominated almost every event he's ever entered – and even some events that weren't his specialty.
"He's always willing to perform. When we lost the sectionals by three points it wasn't because of him," said Dyer. "He did all his events and he even ran the 200-meters dash – and placed second. Doing four events is rare for an athlete but he sacrificed for the good of the team."
Practically a one-man team, Dyer was forever grateful for Harris' prowess. He did so much, according to Dyer, because of all the holes Harris had to plug. His feats weren't out of narcissism but rather out of necessity.
"When we ran counties he alone had 25 points to help us finish seventh overall," said Dyer, who added that Harris placed second in the high jump, second in long jump, and first in triple. "Jumping all those events takes a lot of springs out of his legs so that's remarkable. But he had to do it because there were meets where we only had nine guys."
The energetic Harris was proud of the way he carried the boys' program and said his ability came easy to him.
"There were a lot of people that worked harder than I did but for me it all came natural because even as a kid I used to always jump around," he said. "Track started off as being fun and a way of staying out of trouble but then I found out I was pretty good at it. So, by freshman year, after winning dual meets and placing at big meets like counties, I then thought it was possible to be really good if I worked at it."
And what was born out of his hard work were numerous school and county marks.
"Once I started getting really good, I started setting season goals for myself," said Harris, who admitted that at first he didn't like triple jump. "But at like my third meet ever doing triple jump I set a record [46'11"]. That made me want to work even harder to beat even that."
He said that dangling carrot of always trying to top his previous personal best is what fueled him to becoming the best. He said even his usual high-jump mark of 6'8" will be nothing compared to what he thinks he can accomplish in college.
"It's definitely reachable and very possible to get," Harris said of his towering standard of high-jumping seven feet.
Such confidence and achievements allowed him to pick from almost any school in the area. And from the laundry list of schools who sought him, Harris pared it down to three local track powers, St. Peter's, Manhattan, and Fairleigh Dickinson, choosing St. Peter's because "they had more to offer."
He said he'll major in communication and was lured to the school because of familiarity.
"I already knew a lot of the people who went to school there," he said. "And it's a good environment with a great teacher's staff. All those factors helped make my decision."
A "solid B" student, Harris also knows how important it is to give back to his former track team and leave a legacy far greater than just personal-best times and numbers on a scoreboard. He said he's looking forward to attending meets so that he can see how the next wave of Immaculate runners fare.
"I think it's very important [to leave a legacy] because I'll visit and want to see old classmates do as well as I did," said Harris, who added he'd be happy for anybody who chases down his records – but even happier if no one ever does.
He added those record-setting numbers are sweet to gawk at but they don't define him, as he wants to be remembered as not only a top-tier athlete but as someone who cared about his program, school, and the indelible mark he left on remaining teammates. He noted he learned a lot from another Immaculate track star, Dominique Booker. The UCF-bound Booker, according to Dyer, was known as "perhaps the hardest working athlete at Immaculate and Isaiah learned a lot from her."
Harris agreed and said he's used his close friend's sage advice to bestow on those he's now left behind.
"She was one of the first people I ever talked to at Immaculate," he said of Booker. "We learned to handle our emotions together. There were times I had to cheer her up and times where she gave me great advice, like telling me to keep focused because I would sometimes fool around at meets. I'll pass that [seriousness] on to them."
If his focus ever appeared to wane at events, it was impossible for the untrained eye to tell because Harris' name is littered all over multi-sport record books. Not only was he the school's best track star but he was also an all-everything shooting guard on the basketball team, as well as a slight yet effective deep-ball wide receiver on the football team.
"He was the high scorer in the county," Dyer marveled of the dynamo's hardwood talents. "He played football, too. But he was most exciting in basketball. Just an offensive threat."
While fondly reminiscing about Harris' on-court prowess, Dyer had to chuckle at the fact that despite Harris' leaping ability, dunking wasn't a common thing – at least when Dyer was in attendance.
"He's not that tall – only about 5'11," said Dyer. "It's ironic because I never really saw him dunk much."
When the message was relayed to him, Harris had a laugh, too, because the 140-pounder said he was certainly a high-flyer.
"He must've missed all my dunks or not been at those games," Harris chortled. "[Because] I was a dunker."
Dunking will certainly be a no-no at St. Peter's because by signing the full scholarship, Harris can no longer play the sport he's loved since childhood.
"I'll just be doing track because they're investing a lot of money into me," Harris said matter-of-factly. "Basketball is out because of the injuries that could happen."
When asked if he can even touch a basketball anymore, Harris quipped, "Coaches said basically all I can do is shoot around by myself but no pickup games or intramurals. I'll miss it but it's for the best."
One thing that Dyer said he'll miss is how eager Harris was. Whether it was listening to his coaches, helping others, or improving himself, Dyer said Harris had unmatched eagerness and enthusiasm to better everyone and everything.
"At the Meet of Champions he placed third in the triple jump, ninth in long jump, and first in high jump with a 6'6," said Dyer. "But he wanted to do more. He's just a student of the sport. He came in as a freshman doing 40 feet in the triple jump and now he's easily clearing that. And he's now almost up to seven feet in the high jump. He was just always about improving."
Harris, however, didn't join Booker at the Nationals in North Carolina last month because he barely missed the qualifying mark. That rare shortcoming will be a lasting image in his mind and will be a motivating factor to never miss out on an important meet again.
"I was short by six inches in the triple-jump," he said. "It was a goal for me and disappointing that I didn't make it. It makes me want to work that much harder at St. Peter's and face the top competition."
Harris said he's already itching at the chance to start his indoor season but will have to wait until freshman orientation on August 3 to connect with coach Mike Massone and receive the workout regiment.
"I think I can do a whole lot next year because I'll be doing both indoor and outdoor," Harris said. "I'm excited to start. When he [Massone] told me all the All-Americans that were at the school and how I can be like them if I worked hard enough, that got me all fired up."
Although only an incoming freshman, Harris said another lofty, yet attainable goal, is within reach – just not yet.
"I haven't talked [publicly] about that yet but people are always saying I could make the Olympics junior team," he said. "Olympics are down the road and it motivates me but I want to take my time and not think too big yet and overwhelm myself."
Whatever goals Harris has set, if he continues to work hard and ascend, he'll certainly be the one doing the overwhelming.