Change of Course

Newly-elected College Football Hall of Famer Major Harris wouldn't have changed much about his career at West Virginia, but he admits that he would have made a different decision about turning pro following his junior year.

"Looking back, I probably wouldn't have come out early if I were making the decision now," said Harris. "I wish they would have had the basketball rule when I was there, where you can see where you're going to get drafted and you can come back. But at the time, I had played for a national championship and got nominated for the Heisman. I looked around and saw other guys whose resumes weren't as heavy, and they leave, and you kind of follow suit.

"I think the way I went about it was wrong," Harris continued as he spoke frankly about the decision. "I regret not going to Coach Nehlen and asking him what he thought about it. And you have people in your ear telling you different things. But you are young, and you think they are telling you right. But looking back, it's different."

That Harris hasn't let that mistake get him down speaks volumes about his personality, which his former coach said made him a great leader.

"His personality is infectious," Don Nehlen, a fellow Hall of Famer, said. "He was a folk hero in West Virginia, but that never bothered him. Our kids respected him because he never changed. What you saw was what you got. That made him a great leader."

Had Harris stayed for his senior season, he might have gotten elected to the Hall even earlier. However, Nehlen, as one of the electors, had a suspicion this year might be Harris' time.

"I'm a voting member, so I knew he got one vote," Nehlen joked. "You never know when someone will go in, but I felt he was deserving, and I kind of felt like this might be the year he would get in. That 1988 team was special, and he was the catalyst."

Harris, while being on the ballot in previous years, was not expecting the call, which came from West Virginia officials while he was on the road.

"I was definitely surprised. When I got the call I did not know what to think. When you don't play in the NFL, you don't expect something like this. Most of the names on the ballot or the ones that get elected, other than the coaches, had a pretty good NFL career. That can be icing on the cake as to whether or not you get in."

As a member of WVU's Hall of Fame, a two-time top five Heisman Trophy finalist and with a closet full of awards and records, Harris has plenty of accomplishments of which to be proud. That includes his latest election ("It's a great achievement"), but it's not the one that tops his list.

"I think it was just earning a scholarship," he said somewhat surprisingly. "That is where it all starts. You want to get recruited out of high school, and to do that and then get a scholarship, that was my proudest moment."

Harris could also be excused for thinking that he "came too early" – that running quarterbacks now might have a better chance to play in the NFL, especially given Pat White's second round selection in last weekend's NFL Draft. Again, however, he's matter-of-fact about the whole scenario, and is not bitter about the way things worked out.

"I never thought about opening doors for others or I was first to do this or that," he said of his college career and pro prospects. "Someone brought those stats up to my attention, but I didn't realize that. There were other running quarterbacks before me. I try not to get caught up with worrying about that decision. I was just trying to play and have fun and help my team to win.

"I do think it's harder to tell someone in football not to come out. You can go out there and blow out a knee, and it could be over. You can see where a guy can go back and it can help him. It's a hard question."

Harris, who continues to coach at Brashear High School in Pittsburgh, will be inducted at a banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City on Dec. 8. Enshrinement ceremonies will follow at the Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind., in the summer of 2010.


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