UW’s Top 50 football players: No. 1
LARAMIE -- During this summer series we are going to countdown the Top 50 football players in Wyoming history, presented by Premier Bone & Joint Centers, Worthy of Wyoming.
The rules are simple: What was the player's impact while in Laramie? That means NFL stats, draft status or any other accolade earned outside of UW is irrelevant when it comes to this list.
This isn't a one-man job. This task called for a panel of experts. Joining me is Robert Gagliardi, Jared Newland, Ryan Thorburn and Kevin McKinney. We all compiled our own list of 50 and let computer averages do the work. Think BCS -- only we hope this catalog is more fair.
Don't agree with a selection? Feel free to sound off on our Twitter page @7220sports.
Wide receiver, 1993-96, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Here's why: Marcus Harris' lone job in 1993 was to watch and learn from Ryan Yarborough -- on and off the field.
The All-American had established himself as the best wide receiver in the country. When he graduated, Yarborough had more receiving yards than anyone who ever played the college game.
Not a bad guy to shadow, huh?
Joe Tiller and his staff told Harris that he would replace Yarborough in '94. He had a front-row seat to greatness.
However, Harris didn't just watch his mentor in meeting rooms or at practice, he played in 11 games during the 1993 season, mainly on special teams. The rookie from Minny did finish the season with one catch for 14 yards. That came in a 48-10 blowout over Hawaii in late October.
Does Harris remember that grab?
"That's the first game my parents came out to," he said with a laugh. "I knew I was catching a ball that day. I knew Yarbs would put on a show and I'd have a chance to get in."
That's exactly what transpired.
Quarterback Joe Hughes tossed three touchdown passes, including two to Yarborough.
Why would we talk so much about a one-catch freshman season? Harris burned his redshirt.
"I could've whined and complained, but this is the cards we were dealt," Harris said. No, he isn't talking about his limited playing time, he's thinking about the numbers he could've had if he had sat out that season and instead played in 1997.
In three seasons -- just 35 games -- Harris snagged 258 passes for 4,504 yards and 38 touchdowns. He shattered every one of Yarborough's school records, aside from his 42 touchdown catches.
After the 1996 season, Harris owned these NCAA records:
* Most career receiving yards: 4,518
* Most 1,400-yard receiving seasons: three (first to ever do that)
* Most 100-yard receiving games: 24
* Led the nation in receiving yards per game: 137.5
Harris still owns the program record for yards, receptions, single-season yards (1,650 in 1996), single-game yards (260 vs. Fresno State in 1994) and single-game receptions (16 vs Iowa State and Colorado State in 1996).
He's also the leader in average yards per game (98.2), average yards in a single season (137.5 in '96), single-season receptions (109 in '96), average receptions per game in a career (5.6) and in a single season (9.1 in '96).
Harris was already establishing himself as one of the best wide outs in the Western Athletic Conference, but when quarterback Josh Wallwork came to Laramie in 1995, this duo became the best in the nation.
Harris doesn't like to play the "what-if" game, but it's fun to think about what could have happened if he tacked on 500, 800 or his average yardage over his final three seasons -- 1,501 yards. That would've give him 6,019 career receiving yards, 741 more than the current leader, Western Michigan's Corey Davis.
Still, Harris is ranked No. 6 in that category.
"If you have that extra year of yardage, I'm not in sixth, I'm No. 1 forever and ever and ever," he laughed.
Harris still to this day says he would've given it all back to play in a bowl game at the conclusion of the '96 season. The Cowboys were 10-2. They played in the first-ever WAC title game against the No. 6 team in the country, rival BYU. It was the Cougars who had to take Wyoming into overtime that night in Las Vegas. They pulled off the overtime victory, 28-25.
Harris was a three-time All-Conference selection. He was a two-time All-American. He finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting. In 1996, he claimed the Biletnikoff Trophy Award, which is given to the nation's top pass catcher.
In 2004, Harris was inducted into the Wyoming Athletics Hall of Fame. We are still waiting -- and wondering -- when that call will come from the College Football Hall.
It's long overdue.
McKinney's take: In my years at Wyoming, I felt that Marcus Harris was one of the truly legitimate candidates for the Heisman Trophy whom we had been fortunate enough to have in quite some time.
So Tim Harkins and I sat down with Marcus and talked to him about what we were thinking, and what would be involved for him. There would be pressures, not to mention distractions.
He was gracious, appreciative and willing to do what was necessary. My idea for his campaign would be to call it Hesiman-Marcus, playing off the famous retailer Neiman-Marcus. I contacted the company and asked if they would be good with using their font and “look," and told them what I was thinking.
We would create a watch with Harris’ image on the face and his statistics on the back. Media would receive the paper watch in an attractive box as if it came from the retailer.
It turned out to be a popular campaign. I must say it turned out very well.
I remember how excited I was when ESPN talked about it on SportsCenter one evening. Once that campaign began, the requests for Marcus came hot and heavy. He handled them like a pro. It certainly didn’t diminish his production on the football field as his statistics would attest.
I know as we got down the stretch, he had his fill. But he continued to handle it like a real pro. Obviously he didn’t win it, but he was among the finalists. He, of course, was selected as the Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation’s top receiver.
The Heisman push was great fun for Tim and I and the athletics department, but I know it was a pain in the neck for him. I will forever respect how he handled it.
Newland's take: What more can be said about the best football player (in my opinion and many others) in Wyoming history?
Marcus was and still is a great friend and one of the most humble guys I have ever been around.
Marcus was never the fastest guys around but he always seemed to get open to make big catches whether it was over the middle or down the field.
Remember when he had eight catches for 149 yards and a touchdown against the No. 1 Nebraska Cornhuskers in 1994? Remember when he had a couple of first half touchdown receptions against Oklahoma State and the all-everything RW McQuarters in a 45-25 win in Laramie in 1995?
We all remember the key fourth-down catches in the 96-yard drive he had in 1996 against CSU to win the Bronze Boot.
After leaving Wyoming as the all-time leader in receiving yards in NCAA history, and to still be ranked No. 6 all-time 25 seasons later, says it all.
He did that in just three seasons.
Tucker's take: I've mentioned this many times before, but the first question asked of this panel was: "Who is the best player in Wyoming football history?"
To me, it was an absolute no-brainer, but I wanted to see if I could be convinced otherwise.
Obviously, that didn't work.
There have been so many great players over the 124-year history of Cowboy football, many of whom didn't even make this list. Marcus Harris is the best of them all. Not only do his statistics back up that statement, he is a first-class human being. The guy you want as the face of your program.
When the name Marcus Harris pops up on my caller ID, I always shake my head, smile and think about the 12-year-old kid who would've fainted at the thought of this guy calling him.
When I was young, Saturdays were reserved for Marcus; Sundays, John Elway. They were in the same hemisphere in my world.
Though we have now been friends for a few years, Marcus is still that figure in my mind. He made so many special plays in Laramie. He handled everything with grace. He took time to shake hands with kids and sign autographs.
Marcus Harris deserves to be in the College Football Hall of Fame. His family deserves it. Wyoming deserves it.
That is the final accolade from a career that was literally second to none.
How the panel voted: Cody Tucker (1), Robert Gagliardi (1), Jared Newland (1), Ryan Thorburn (2), Kevin McKinney (1)
Previous selections: No. 50, No. 49, No. 48, No. 47, No. 46, No. 45, No. 44, No. 43, No. 42, No. 41, No. 40, No. 39, No. 38, No. 37, No. 36, No. 35, No. 34, No. 33, No. 32, No. 31, No. 30, No. 29, No. 28, No. 27, No. 26, No. 25, No. 24, No. 23, No. 22, No. 21, No. 20, No. 19, No. 18, No. 17, No. 16, No. 15, No. 14, No. 13, No. 12, No. 11, No. 10, No. 9, No. 8, No. 7, No. 6, No. 5, No. 4, No. 3, No. 2
Cody Tucker: Brand Manager and creator of 7220sports.com. Tucker has covered the Cowboys since June of 2019, but was a season-ticket holder for nearly three decades. Tucker has also covered Michigan State University Athletics for the Lansing State Journal and Detroit Free Press and the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins during his 10-year journalism career
Robert Gagliardi: Former sports editor and University of Wyoming beat reporter for WyoSports. Gagliardi covered the Cowboys from more than a quarter century. He also covered the team at the Branding Iron, the UW student newspaper. Gagliardi also co-authored the book: The Border War: The Bronze Boot Rivalry Between Colorado State and Wyoming
Jared Newland: Currently the local sales manager for Townsquare Media SE Wyoming, Newland worked with and around Wyoming athletics for 20 years, starting as a student athletic trainer in 1990. Newland has also served in the Sports Information Office, the Cowboy Joe Club, Wyoming Sports Properties and was a UW Athletics Hall of Fame Committee Member from 2002-14.
Ryan Thorburn: Currently covering the Oregon Ducks for The Register-Guard, Thorburn also covered the Cowboys in the early and mid-90's for the Branding Iron and Casper Star Tribune. He has also written four books about Wyoming Athletics: The Border War: The Bronze Boot Rivalry Between Colorado State and Wyoming, Cowboy Up: Kenny Sailors, The Jump Shot and Wyoming’s Championship Basketball History, Lost Cowboys: The Story of Bud Daniel and Wyoming Baseball and Black 14: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Wyoming Football
Kevin McKinney: Currently the senior associate athletics director for external affairs at the University of Wyoming, McKinney also serves as the radio color commentator for Wyoming football and men's basketball. McKinney has been involved with UW Athletics in some capacity since 1972. He was also inducted into the Wyoming Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2015.