LARAMIE, Wyo. -
In December of 1996, University of Wyoming wide receiver Marcus Harris made his mark as the greatest receiver in college football, being selected the winner of the 1996 Biletnikoff Award given to college football's outstanding receiver each season, setting the NCAA record for career receiving yards, finishing ninth in the Heisman Trophy balloting and being named a Consensus All-American. Now in December of 2015, he is making his mark at the University of Wyoming in another way, earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Science.
Harris, a native of Minneapolis, Minn., currently resides in his hometown. He coaches high school student-athletes at Breck School in Golden Valley, Minn., in the metropolitan Minneapolis area. Harris is the offensive coordinator and coaches the wide receivers for the Breck Mustangs, serves as an assistant girls basketball coach and is the head softball coach.
It was his desire to better himself and his family that motivated Harris to return to school in the Spring of 2012 to begin working on completing his college degree online. While he won't be attending graduation ceremonies at UW this week, we had an opportunity to talk with Marcus recently about earning his degree.
"To be quite honest, the number one thing was I wanted to do something better for my daughters," said Harris, talking on the phone from his home in Minneapolis. "My oldest daughter, Selena, is a senior now, and four years ago it was important for us to get her to a better school. We were looking at a number of private schools and my hands were tied. We had to rely on others to help us make that happen.
"In connection with that, I decided that I wanted to put myself in a position to someday step up to the next level and have an opportunity to become a college coach, and you can't do that without a college degree. I wanted to position myself to someday make that move.
"It took me awhile for that reality to sink in and try to put myself in a position to further myself. So those were the two main motivations -- my daughters and better my family and myself."
When asked what it meant to him to achieve this goal, he said, "It was a special moment to hear I had completed all my requirements. It wasn't easy. I had to jump through a few hoops, but at the end of the day it was real refreshing to have completed something I had started so long ago."
Harris continues to rank as one of the marquee receivers in the history of college football. He remains the only receiver in NCAA history to have 1,400 receiving yards in three different seasons: 1,431 in 1994; 1,423 in 1995; and 1,650 in 1996. He led the NCAA in receiving yards in 1994 and `96 and ranked second in 1995. He still ranks No. 4 in NCAA history in career receiving yards with 4,518.
He uses his experience now to teach young men looking for the same opportunity he had when he was their age -- an opportunity to earn a college scholarship and take their skills to the college level.
"I am the offensive coordinator and coach the receivers for Breck," said Harris. "I've had the opportunity to coach a couple young men who have earned (NCAA) Division I scholarships. This past year, I coached a receiver who had several Division I offers. It looks like he has decided to play at Northwestern next year.
"I've been coaching since about 2000 or 2001 when I stopped chasing any remnants of playing football professionally. At that time, my oldest daughter was about three years old and the focus was on raising our family. I jumped right into coaching at that time.
"I worked for several years in schools as a TA (teaching assistant), and then Breck really wanted me to come coach receivers as they had some talented young players coming up that needed some tutelage, so they hired me. Along with that, they offered me a full-time position working on their grounds crew, which was something I had done several summers in college at Wyoming. I had worked on golf courses, and have always enjoyed being outside. I maintain the grounds, the athletic fields and really enjoy being outdoors. I've been happy there, and I think this is my eighth year at Breck. I've really enjoyed it."
Harris' love for sports and coaching doesn't stop at football. He also currently coaches high school girls basketball and softball, and has coached each of his three daughters at some point during their lives. He coaches both his eldest daughter, Selena, in basketball and softball and his middle daughter, Juliana, in basketball and Little League Baseball where she plays baseball with the boys. Kyla, the youngest, also plays basketball and Little League Baseball.
"I've coached basketball at many different levels," said Harris. "I coach the "C" squad and help with the varsity basketball team at Breck, and I'm also the head softball coach at the high school."
But the passion to someday return to the college game himself, this time as a coach, is even stronger now that he will have his college degree in hand.
"I would like to pursue my dream of coaching at the college level," said Harris. "Coaches who coached me in college had my name associated with them because of the success we enjoyed at Wyoming. I thought to myself why not use my own name to reach that level of coaching.
"There are several coaches who coached me who are still in the game at various levels. Mark Tommerdahl, who recruited me to Wyoming, is at Cal. I still talk with Bobby Kennedy, who coached me early in my Wyoming career. He is at the University of Iowa. I also talk with Jim Lathrop (strength and conditioning coach) once in awhile. He is at Illinois State with Brock Spack (former Cowboy defensive coordinator and now Illinois State head coach).
"I feel now that my girls are growing up, we could make the move if a college position opened up.
"But in addition to the dream of coaching in college, completing my degree will also potentially offer me some other new opportunities -- some more supervisory positions that require a college degree. Bottom line is if I'm happy, and my wife is halfway happy (he says laughing) and my daughters are taken care of -- that is what is important. The main focus is to continue to try and do something better for our family."
Now, almost 20 years after he concluded his senior season at Wyoming in 1996, Harris was asked if he is able to reflect back on his accomplishments in football.
"I do understand that I still hold some records, but I don't know if I've been able to put together how special it was," said Harris. "The one accomplishment that I am probably most proud of is being the only college receiver in history to have three seasons of 1,400 or more yards. That is special to me because it showed my commitment to the University of Wyoming to stay my senior season, and it is special because it is a record that has stood for all these years. These days, I think there is so much pressure on these kids if they have a couple good seasons to leave and chase the money.
"The reasons I decided to stay speaks volumes about the University of Wyoming and the people who were there -- my teammates and the coaching staff."
Speaking of the coaching staff, Harris credits the offensive system that was directed by head coach Joe Tiller and offensive coordinator Larry Korpitz for much of his success. The `96 Cowboys were the No. 1 ranked passing team in the nation in 1996, averaging 359.2 yards per game through the air. Harris led the NCAA in receiving yards, with 1,650. Quarterback Josh Wallwork led the nation in total offense (350.8 yards per game). The `96 Cowboys ended the season with a 10-2 record and ranked 22nd in both the final Associated Press and USA Today Coaches' Polls. They won the Western Athletic Conference Pacific Division title and played in the inaugural WAC Championship Game. At one point during the season, Wyoming had the nation's longest winning streak of 12 consecutive games, including winning the first nine games of `96 and the last three games of the `95 season.
"To be able to have the type of success we had as a team says a lot about the offensive system we ran.
"There are so many variables that go into having a successful program, but it is special to still be on the radar of being among the top receivers in college football.
"And now that my daughters are getting older, it is fun to put on an old game tape once in awhile or to have my name mentioned and to hear my daughters say, `You were kind of good Dad.' I think at those times I am able to realize how unique and special a time it was."
Harris accomplished all that he did in three seasons as a starter for the Cowboys. He didn't redshirt as a freshman, but played sparingly on offense his true freshman season. He had only one reception for 14 yards and returned two kickoffs for 16 yards as a freshman. Harris' limited playing time as a freshman was due to a veteran receiving corps, led by senior wide receiver Ryan Yarborough, who set the NCAA record for career receiving yards (4,357) from 1990-93 prior to Harris breaking it (4,518 yards) three years later in 1996.
Harris still stays in touch with many of his teammates, including Wallwork, Yarbrough and some of his former running mates at wide receiver such as David Saraf and Brent Tillman. Harris remains close to his college teammate and roommate Greg Folsom and Greg's brother and former UW linebacker Ryan Folsom. Former Cowboy tight end Mike Jones, cornerback Je'Ney Jackson, as well as St. Paul, Minn. native and former Cowboy safety Greg Van Leer are among former teammates he still talks with to this day.
When Wyoming fans talk about the greatest Cowboys in history, Marcus Harris is always among the first names that comes up for discussion for his accomplishments on the field. Now, he can also be recognized for another accomplishment off the field as a graduate of the University of Wyoming.