Marcus Harris knows better than to get his hopes up.
Harris figured he’d be on the ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame again. One of the most accomplished receivers to ever play the college game, Harris put up numbers during his career at Wyoming that are still among the best in the history of the sport. His 4,518 career receiving yards rank fifth all-time in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Harris is in the running for induction next year, joining 75 other former FBS players on the 2020 ballot released earlier this month. The class, which will consist of 12 members, will be officially inducted during the National Football Foundation’s 63rd annual awards dinner on Dec. 8, 2020.
“Being in today’s elite group means an individual is truly among the greatest to have ever played the game, and we look forward to announcing the 2020 College Football Hall of Fame class in January,” NFF President Steve Hatchell said in a statement.
While Harris said it’s an honor just to be on a ballot that includes the likes of NFL Hall of Famers Marvin Harrison (Syracuse), Tony Gonzalez (Cal), Eric Dickerson (SMU) and Morten Anderson (Michigan State), he’s been here before. Harris was on the ballot the previous two years but wasn’t voted into the class either time.
He said he’s not holding his breath this time around.
“It’s just full of disappointment if you do that,” Harris told the Star-Tribune in a phone interview. “I’ll just wait to hear something and hope for the best.”
Making a case
It was hard to find a more dominant college receiver in the mid-1990s than Harris, who was Division I’s career leader in receiving yards by the time he was done playing for the Cowboys. Operating in the late Joe Tiller’s pass-happy offense, he led the nation in receiving yards as a sophomore in 1994 (1,431), finished second as a junior (1,423) and again had more receiving yards than anyone in the country as a senior with 1,650, which still stands as a program record for the most receiving yards in a single season.
A two-time first-team All-American, Harris won the Biletnikoff Award in 1996 as the nation’s top college receiver and finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting that season. His 259 career receptions are a school record while his 38 touchdown catches rank second only to Ryan Yarbrough, who also played in Tiller’s spread offense from 1991-93 and finished with 42 touchdown catches — tied for eighth-most in FBS history.
“When you’re a little kid jumping over mom’s and dad’s bushes in the front yard pretending you’re winning a bowl game or a Heisman Trophy or whatnot, you have those dreams,” said Harris, who was inducted into the Wyoming Athletics Hall of Fame in 2004. “But when it actually came to fruition that I was up for the Heisman and finished ninth and got this Biletnikoff Award, those are things you joke about with your friends and dream about when you’re in bed at night.
“The way it panned out is just pretty miraculous for me. It’s been 20-something years, and I still can’t wrap my head around all those numbers and things.”
Harris believes his numbers would’ve been even better had he caught passes from Josh Wallwork for the duration of his career. Harris caught just one pass as a freshman in 1993 when Yarbrough was Joe Hughes’ go-to target. John Gustin was Wyoming’s starting quarterback a year later before Wallwork, whose 6,453 career passing yards rank fifth in program history, took over as the starter for Harris’ final two seasons.
“To be able to plug people into that system and make it work was awesome, but to have a Wallwork-Harris connection for more than two years — even just an average freshman year with 500 yards — and I don’t think we’re having this conversation,” he said. “The numbers would be so astronomical. He was on the same page as me, and we made our own option routes sometimes.”
Politics at play?
As it stands, Harris’ production at Wyoming is certainly worthy of the consideration it’s receiving for the sport’s highest honor, but Harris believes there’s more at play when it comes to him possibly being voted in. More than 30 wide receivers have been elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, most of whom don’t have better college statistics than Harris.
Those include some of the most recognizable names in the sport in Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State), Rocket Ismail (Notre Dame) and Heisman winners Desmond Howard (Michigan) and Tim Brown (Notre Dame), all of whom went on to varying degrees of success in the NFL. Rice, the league’s all-time leader in receiving yards, and Brown are Hall of Famers while Howard was the Super Bowl XXXI MVP as a receiver and kick returner for the Green Bay Packers.
Harris was selected by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round of the 1997 draft but never played a regular-season game in the NFL. He eventually returned to his native Minnesota, where he now works on the grounds crew and coaches football, girls basketball and softball at Breck School in suburban Minneapolis.
Harris said he doesn’t have anything against the receivers that are in the College Football Hall of Fame. It’s the criteria NFF members and current Hall of Famers seem to be weighing when casting their votes that Harris said is difficult to understand even if he’s had to learn to accept it over the last few years.
“I think there are certain criteria that are overlooked or taken out of context when this is a college award and what have you done in college?” Harris said. “But I think they’re looking for what these guys have done in the pros. As a matter of fact, some people that got in last year, all they talked about was their pro career. Just understanding the politics. It doesn’t frustrate me. It’s sad, but it doesn’t frustrate me because I understand politics and I understand how that works.”
So Harris continues to wait. Voting for the 2020 Hall of Fame class ended Friday, and the inductees won’t be officially announced until January in the days leading up to the College Football Playoff championship game.
Only 1,010 players have ever been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. That means just 0.02 percent of the nearly 5.33 million people who have played college football have earned that distinction, according to the NFF.
Harris didn’t downplay what being part of that kind of exclusive company would mean to him even if he won’t necessarily be waiting around for the call.
“To get there would definitely be the highlight of my football career for sure,” Harris said. “It would just accent it real nicely and just humble me beyond words.”