WVU legend Major Harris will be grand marshal for Ohio River Festival parade

Mark Martin

There will be some “Major” excitement at this year’s Ohio River Festival in Ravenswood.

Thanks to the presence of former WVU football great Major Harris, who will serve as the grand marshal for the Ohio River Festival parade.

The ORF is set for Aug. 6-8 in Ravenswood.

Ohio River Festival director Lucy Harbert is thrilled to have Harris on hand as he gets set for yet another post-career honor this coming football season.

The school recently announced that Harris’ No. 9 will be retired in November.

“We’re happy to have him,” said Harbert, who has directed the ORF for more than 30 years and once served several terms as Ravenswood’s mayor.

This year’s parade through downtown Ravenswood will begin on Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

Besides serving as the ORF grand marshal, Harbert said Harris will be at the Riverfront Park to meet the boat drivers, sign autographs and take pictures.

He will also be attending the super breakfast at North United Methodist Church Saturday morning at 8:30.

Harris will be at the park on Sunday as well, and will also be squeezing in some golf at Greenhills Country Club during the weekend.

The quarterback of the Mountaineers in the seasons of 1987-89 is considered by many experts to be one of the greatest players of all-time, regardless of position.

Major Harris celebrates after WVU defeats Syracuse to finish regular season of 1988 undefeated.

He certainly ranks as one of the most exciting.

Harris is well-remembered for his rocket arm, hard running and uncanny ability to escape oncoming defenders who were rushing the quarterback.

As a freshman starter at QB in 1987, Harris led the Mountaineers to the John Hancock Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. He threw for 1,200 yards that season for Don Nehlen’s Mountaineers and rushed for 615 on the ground.

Don Nehlen and Major Harris - Fiesta Bowl

In 1988, the Pittsburgh native engineered the Mountaineers to a first-ever undefeated and untied season as they finished 11-0 and played for the national championship against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day 1989.

Harris in national championship game against Notre Dame.

Leading up to the historic game, Harris threw for 2,525 yards and 20 touchdowns.

One of the wins in the 1988 campaign came against long-time nemesis Penn State. One of the most memorable plays in Mountaineer history was turned in that day by Harris.

In the first quarter, the Mountaineers were on the move offensively. When the ball was snapped, West Virginia’s line went in one direction and Harris the opposite.

He managed to turn the apparent broken play into magic. Harris made no less than seven Nittany Lion defenders miss him on his way to a 26-yard touchdown.

In a win over Boston College that season, Harris outgained the Eagles in offensive yardage all by himself. The talented Harris amassed 372 yards to BC’s 317.

Many fans feel a healthy Harris would have led WVU to a national title win over the Fighting Irish of head coach Lou Holtz in that New Year’s Day national championship showdown.

Unfortunately, he injured his throwing shoulder in the opening quarter which certainly hampered his play.

Remarkably, though, he stayed in the game and played despite the injury, illustrating his extreme toughness.

As part of the wonderful 1988 season, Harris finished fifth in the balloting for the prestigious Heisman Trophy presentation.

Harris earned ECAC Player of the Year honors and even picked up write-in votes during the state of West Virginia’s gubernatorial election that November.

Harris’ final season at WVU was again electric. Though the Mountaineers lost to Penn State in State College, Harris outgained the entire Nittany Lion squad at Beaver Stadium, 301-262.

Penn State game

While WVU was a run-first offensive attack under Nehlen, who is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, Harris still threw for 2,058 yards. In addition, he just missed rushing for 1,000 yards by finishing with 936 on the ground.

He was responsible for 23 touchdowns in the 1989 season.

Harris placed third in the Heisman Trophy voting, still the highest of any player in Mountaineer football history. He earned First Team Kodak All-American honors and was a Second Team Associated Press and Football News All-American pick.

Harris earned a second straight ECAC Player of the Year award and was voted WVU’s Most Valuable Player for a third consecutive season.

Harris chose to leave WVU after his junior season for the National Football League. He was taken in the 12th round by the Los Angeles Raiders.

While his NFL career didn’t go as planned, many feel Harris was ahead of his time. His style of play would ultimately set the tone for future players in the NFL like Michael Vick and Russell Wilson.

Harris would play in the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League.

When he left WVU, Harris’ 7,334 total yards were a then-school record. He became one of just two quarterbacks in Division I college football history to pass for more than 5,000 yards and rush for over 2,000. He continues to rank in the school’s top 10 for passing yards and total offense.

Harris was responsible for 59 touchdowns while at WVU. His longest TD run was 70 yards and his longest pass for a score was 75.

Harris is one of two Mountaineers being honored this coming season with the retirement of a number. The No. 90 worn by defensive end/linebacker Daryl Talley is the other. Talley will be honored October 2 in Morgantown when his former team plays Texas Tech.

To this point only three others – Sam Huff (No. 75), Ira “Rat” Rodgers (No. 21) and Bruce Bosley (No. 77) – have had the honor bestowed upon them.

The WVU Athletics Council approved the retirement of Harris’ number as he meets the qualifications that include an undergraduate degree from the school, induction into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame, induction into the Mountaineer Legends Society and induction into a national collegiate or professional Hall of Fame.

Harris was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009 and a year later was an inductee into the Legends of the Sun Bowl.

He was a WVU Sports Hall of Fame inductee in 1999.

Harris was an inaugural member of the prestigious Legends Society in 2016.

An on-field presentation with Harris will take place during the November 6 contest in Morgantown against Oklahoma State.

Before that, those living in Jackson County and attending the Ohio River Festival will have the chance to salute this one-of-a-kind Mountaineer legend.