There's a Major presence at Brashear

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Brashear High School coach Ron Wabby wanted to give his players a little football history lesson last year. So, he showed them a high school highlight tape of a former Brashear quarterback who could make your jaw drop with some of his plays.

Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Major Harris, right, with Brashear coach Ron Wabby, has been helping on the sidelines of his alma mater as an assistant coach.
Click photo for larger image.

Then he showed the same player in his glory days as a West Virginia quarterback.

The players didn't know much about Major Harris before they watched those tapes last year. This year, they don't have to see Harris in the movies. They see him in person every day at practice.

And when Brashear opens its season tonight against Keystone Oaks, the players will see Harris on the sideline.

This Major has a new official rank -- "assistant coach."

Major Harris, one of the most celebrated players in City League football history and one of the great quarterbacks from Western Pennsylvania, is in his first season as a Brashear assistant, working under his former coach.

"The Maj" has come home. Harris, 38, is a 1986 Brashear graduate.

"I kind of just stumbled into this," Harris said. "I don't think I'd be doing it if this was, say, Schenley."

Harris doesn't look much different than his Brashear and West Virginia days, except for the fact that he's carrying about 40 more pounds.

"I guess I'm about 250 now," he said with his hearty laugh.

Harris still flashes that big smile, is quick with a one-liner and his voice still sounds like he's imitating Nick Nolte.

"He's just a fun person to be around," said Brashear quarterback Mustapha Asante. "He never yells and I've never heard him cuss. I know he's helped me. He showed me how to throw so my arm wouldn't hurt. He's taught me how to read defenses."

Harris is Brashear's quarterbacks coach and is also deeply involved with the passing game. This past summer, Harris was asked by a Brashear parent if he'd help some of the players in offseason workouts. Harris obliged.

Then a Brashear assistant coach left. Wabby had stayed in touch with Harris over the years, and the subject of coaching at Brashear came up.

"Then he just started showing up and here he is today," said Wabby, who won two City League championships in 1984-85 with Harris as his quarterback. "You can't believe how smart he is with the passing game. Just his knowledge of routes and techniques.

"The kids love him. Most of them didn't know who he was before they saw those tapes. But they know now. And they've seen him throw a ball. He can still throw. But I think he's a good role model for them. He doesn't do drugs and still doesn't drink. I try to buy him a drink or a beer all the time. He doesn't want it."

Harris is self-employed and lives by himself in the West End. His life has taken many turns since his West Virginia days. Over the past decade, he has coached in three different indoor leagues.

He was the head coach for a team in Wheeling, W.Va., and guided the team to the championship game. His assistants were Wabby and former Brashear players Mike Booth, Anthony Horne and Will Thomas. He also was a player-assistant coach only a few years ago in South Carolina.

Last year, he was an assistant with an indoor team in East Rutherford, N.J.

As he took a break from a Brashear practice earlier this week, he glanced over the field and said: "I remember actually playing a few games on this field. Now all the games are at [Cupples Stadium on the South Side]."

But when you talk about Major Harris' past, it is always filled with what-ifs? What if he were in college today, would his style of play be accepted more? What if he didn't get hurt on the third play of the national championship game against Notre Dame? What if he didn't leave West Virginia with a year of eligibility left?

What if he didn't make a mockery of the NFL combine, showing up in jeans and a dress shirt for workouts? What if his agent wasn't saying publicly that if Harris wasn't taken in the first few rounds of the 1990 NFL draft, he was heading to the Canadian Football League? What if he stayed in the CFL for more than one season?

If only Harris had a few "do overs."

"Now that I'm older and look back, I probably would've done things differently," said Harris. "But when you're young, you don't see it like that. You're more or less just reacting to things.

"I probably should've stayed in school for that last year. But at the time, I thought I had a pretty good resume to come out. Guys were leaving school and their resume wasn't as good as mine."

At West Virginia, he was a human highlight film. In West Virginia, they still talk about his 26-yard touchdown run against Penn State in 1988, when he went the wrong way on a play but juked his way past seven defenders, making them look like Joe Paterno in pads.

But if you ask Harris, he will tell you "his" most memorable play was in 1987 against Penn State, when he dropped to pass, ran to the sideline, scrambled all the way across the field, came back to the other side and then completed a pass. The play seemingly took about 30 seconds and some Penn State defenders were quoted after the game, saying they felt like they were playing flag football.

"I've always said he was the predecessor to Kordell Stewart, Donovan McNabb and quarterbacks like that," Wabby said. "But Major was just ahead of his time. Back then, NFL teams didn't want a scrambling black quarterback who could move. They wanted him to just stand in the pocket.

"Now, they want guys to get out of the pocket. Sometimes, it's just not the right time for some people. He came a little too early."

Harris guided West Virginia to an 11-0 regular season in 1988, but the Mountaineers lost to Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship. Harris injured his left shoulder on the third play of the game. He played the rest of the contest, but wasn't close to full strength.

Matt Freed,, Post-Gazette
Brashear's assistant coach Major Harris goes over a play with his team in practice Wednesday.
Click photo for larger image.

Harris came close to winning the Heisman Trophy in 1989, finishing third in the voting. He was fifth in '88. But he wasn't just a runner. He could also throw. He became one of only two quarterbacks in NCAA Division I history to pass for more than 5,000 yards and rush for more than 2,000.

But Harris walked away from West Virginia with one year eligibility remaining.

"I think the media blew the whole thing with me and coach [Don] Nehlen out of proportion," Harris said.

"I wasn't unhappy with him or the offense. But I do think I handled the situation wrong. What I mean by that is I basically just left. I should've went to coach Nehlen and talked to him about it. That's something I regret."

Harris was drafted in the 12th round by the Oakland Raiders but signed with the British Columbia Lions of the CFL. He was Doug Flutie's backup, but Harris didn't go back to the CFL after his first season.

Harris actually had a tryout with the Cincinnati Bengals as recently as 2002, but the Bengals did not sign him.

"I actually thought I did pretty well, but it was just that I was an older guy," Harris said.

But don't get the wrong impression about Harris. He's not bitter. He is content with his career and having fun coaching at Brashear.

"I might have done some things differently off the field, but when I was given the opportunity on the field, I felt I did what I had to do," he said.

"When I look back, I'm not disappointed. I wouldn't mind having a couple more dollars right now, but I'm not bitter. I think I had a pretty good career."

Just check the highlight tape.


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