By Kent Larsen
Pre-Mission Walk-on May Cost QB Last Season
KALAMAZOO, MICHIGAN -- The NCAA eligibility rules are complex, and its
little wonder that a young kid from a small town could make an error tha
twould cost him a season of eligibility at an NCAA Division I-A school.
That's what has happened to Ryan Harris, backup quarterback for Western
Michigan's Broncos, all because he spent two weeks as a walk-on at Utah
State University seven years ago.
Instead of working through that season, Harris left USU for an LDS mission,
and spent two years teaching the gospel in England. When he returned, he
played football at Ricks for two years, and then moved to Western Michigan
where he has been a backup quarterback behind Jeff Welsh, playing
occasionally and performing very well when he got the chance.
But those two weeks count as a whole season under the NCAA rules, and
recently Western Michigan learned that Harris isn't eligible to play as a
result, "I was a kid from a small town...," said Harris. "At that point, I
wasn't aware it would penalize me." The school has appealed, and Coach Gary
Darnell hopes to hear from the NCAA that Harris can play, "It has not
ended," Darnell said defiantly.
Why does Darnell want Harris so badly? He's made a difference for the team.
Starter Welsh says that competition from Harris for the starting position
has made him better, "He pushes me. He's one of the hardest workers on the
team. He has made me better." Darnell is very pleased with Harris' talent,
"He could be starting for half, or most, of the teams in the country,"
Darnell also wants Harris because Welsh has been injured, and was injured
again in the team's most recent game, forcing them to use third-string
replacement, Jonathan Drach. When Harris came in for Welsh in games last
year, he was very good, "The times he did get in the games, he made the most
of it, definitely," Welsh said. "He has handled his situation on this team
as well as any human being could possibly do it," Darnell said.
But Kalamazoo Gazette Columnist Paul Bowker says that Harris' story isn't
about a kid wronged by the system, but instead is about character; a young
man's perseverance in spite of circumstances. Harris told him "If you let
yourself get down..., There are a lot of other things in life."
Harris plans to try playing pro ball in the Arena Football League after he
graduates in December, and he thinks he could be a good High School coach,
"I think I could have an influence on kids," he says. Bowker says that all
this shows the kind of character that Harris has, "The sad thing is, that
folder sitting on a desk in Indianapolis [waiting for an eligibility ruling]
will never say anything about that character. And that's a shame."
Harris' fate in NCAA hands
Kalamazoo MI Gazette 2Oct01 S2
By Paul Bowker