Continuing on with our 100 day countdown to WVU’s season opener against the Alabama Crimson Tide, we have reached day 9, the number once worn by WVU quarterback, Major Harris.
Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, Harris was a three-year member of the WVU football program, from 1987 to 1989. During his Mountaineer career, Harris electrified fans with his riffle of an arm, and his elusiveness in the pocket. He made 36 career appearances for the Mountaineers, and recorded 324 completions for 5,173 yards, and 41 touchdowns. Harris also rushed for 2,161 yards, and 18 touchdowns to lead West Virginia to a bowl game in each of his three seasons with the program.
Harris is in the top-ten in several school statistical category leader lists including passing yards (7th), passing touchdowns (7th), and pass completions (10th). He ranks second all-time in school history for rushing yards and, rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. For all of his on-field efforts, Harris earned several awards and honors over the course of his legendary WVU career.
He was a two-time, All-American selection, starting with a third-team honor as named by the Associated Press in 1988. Harris earned first team, and second team All-American honors as voted on by several different media outlets following his senior season. Harris almost became the first Mountaineer to take home the Heisman Memorial Trophy in 1989 as he finished in third place behind Indiana’s Anthony Thompson, and the eventual winner, Houston quarterback Andre Ware. He also won the ECAC player of the year award following his fantastic sophomore season in 1988.
As a freshman, Harris appeared in all 12 of the Mountaineer’s games at quarterback as he split time with fellow freshman, Browning Nagle. After five games, it became apparent that the team had found their man in Harris, leading the former Florida prep stand-out to transfer to rival Louisville the following year.
That season, Harris completed 77 passes for 1,200 yards, and ten touchdowns. Harris struggled at times throwing the ball as he was picked off eight times over the course of his first season, but he made up for it with an incredible 615 rushing yards, and six touchdowns to help the Mountaineers get back to the postseason for the first time in three seasons. They would go on to finish the 1987 campaign with a record of 6-6 after they fell to Oklahoma State 35-33 in the Sun Bowl on Christmas Day 1987.
The following season, the 6’1”, 207 pound signal caller started every game for the Mountaineers at quarterback during the historic 1988 campaign. He completed 105 passes for 1,915 yards, and 14 touchdowns, along with registering 610 rushing yards, and six rushing touchdowns to help lead the Mountaineers to their first perfect season in the program’s 100+ year history, and on the cusp of the program’s first national championship.
The “Major’s” most memorable game of the 11-0 regular season came in the annual Penn State-West Virginia rivalry game. Early in the first quarter on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Morgantown, the Mountaineers were driving on the Nittany Lions. On a first and ten situation, from Penn State’s 27 yard line, Harris improvised when he forgot what to do on a play called in the huddle. Harris took the ball, and scampered almost 30 yards for the first score of the game on what has become known in Mountaineer football lure as simply “the play.” The touchdown run was just the first of three all-purpose touchdowns Harris would turn in on the day (also had 230 passing yards; 36 rushing) as West Virginia went on to defeat their border rivals 51-30 in front of over 66,000 spectators at Mountaineer Field, as well as in front of millions of nationwide viewers on CBS.
With their perfect 11-0 regular season record, West Virginia was invited to play for the national championship against the nation’s only other undefeated team, the #1 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl. Unfortunately for Mountaineers, Harris injured his shoulder as he was hit hard from behind on just the third play of the game. Before Harris could have the injury fixed, West Virginia fell behind Notre Dame 23-6, a deficit that would prove insurmountable to overcome for the underdog Mountaineers.
In Harris’s junior season, he would record career-high’s in several statistical categories including passing yards (2,058 yards), completions (142), passing touchdowns (17), and rushing yards (936) to cement his legacy as one of the greatest players to have ever worn the old Gold and Blue. The team, however, was unable to build off the success of the season prior as the finished the 1989 campaign with an 8-3-1 record after a season ending 27-7 loss at the hands of the Clemson Tigers in that year’s Gator Bowl.
Major Harris decided to forgo his senior year at West Virginia University in 1990 to pursue a career in professional football. He went on to be selected in the 12th round of the 1990 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Raiders. Harris would subsequently released by the organization before training camp.
Harris then tried his luck in the Canadian Football League as he signed to play with the BC Lions. Harris spent one season with the team before leaving the league completely after being hampered by injuries. He would go on to spend three successful seasons in the Arena Football League with the Columbus Thunderbolts. In his brief stint in the Arena League, Harris completed 186 career passes for 2,159 yards, and 29 touchdowns. Harris was able to show off his wheels a bit during his time in the league as he rushed 837 career yards, and 23 touchdowns during the three year span. He made league history in 1991 when he set a single season record with 429 rushing yards. The mark was broken in 2005 when Michael Bishop of the Grand Rapids Rampage rushed for 459 yards.
Major Harris would spend parts of the next ten years in various other semi-pro football leagues until he ended his playing career in 2003 with the Charleston Swamp Foxes of af2. Harris was inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame in 1999, and then into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
All countdown profiles of numbers 100-10 are still available here at WVUPros.com