New offense gives Harris new stature Terp has big role in run-and-shoot set

September 11, 1992|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- When Maryland flew to away football games five years ago, wide receiver Richie Harris (5 feet 10, 151 pounds) used to sit between offensive tackle Ben Jefferson (6-8, 321) and defensive tackle Warren Powers (6-6, 277).

"I had to sit in the middle to fill out the seats," said Harris, then a true freshman. "I remember one time we were getting off the plane, and a stewardess said to one of them, 'Oh, it was nice of you to bring your little brother along.' "

There aren't too many people who believe Harris plays major college football.

Here's another story:

"I was sitting in class and this girl told me she went to watch a football game," said Harris. "She said they had a guy on the team named Richie Harris, but he was a little bigger than me. A day later, somebody told her that I was Richie Harris."

By the end of the season, the entire campus might know Richie Harris. He could be the little guy with the "S" on his chest.

The senior, from Columbia and Mount St. Joseph High, had a sparkling debut for the 1992 season last Saturday night against Virginia when he led all receivers with nine receptions for 52 yards.

That's only 12 fewer receptions than his career total at Maryland.

"I've been small all my life, so I can't use that as a disadvantage," Harris said. "I laugh about the jokes because I hear them a lot. I just use what God gave me, and I feel as though I've been blessed."

Maryland first-year coach Mark Duffner also is using Harris' size to his advantage. Duffner uses four wide receivers in the run-and-shoot offense he has introduced. Harris' speed -- he's been clocked at 4.34 seconds in the 40 -- makes him a natural for the offense.

He can go long and run the regular patterns, such as the post and the flag, with precision. But he may find himself being called on to pull up short for the quick slant, the quick screen or the short hitch. Then watch him run.

"Once Richie catches the ball, you can't let him square up on you or he's gone," said senior safety Scott Rosen. "He's going to break a couple before the year is over."

"I should have had one against Virginia," said Harris. "I'm comfortable with the offense, but I'm still learning it. It's definitely a different attack than the one we used last year. Now we're attacking more, and this offense is a lot of fun."

The Terps seemed to have big plans for Harris right away. He was more than just another receiver. His high school coach was Chuck White and one of the assistants at Mount St. Joe was Jim Hagan.

Both were wide receivers at Maryland.

"He was always more advanced than Marcus [split end Marcus Badgett] and I," said senior wide receiver Dan Prunzik. "He could read defenses, knew when to break off his patterns. For years, I just watched him to see how a pattern was run. I have no trouble saying he's the quickest and smartest receiver on the team."

But a number of things made it difficult for Harris to reach his full potential.

First, there were injuries. Shoulder, hamstring and foot injuries forced him to sit out several games during his sophomore season, when he caught 10 passes for 150 yards. A hamstring problem made him a redshirt for the 1990 season.

Harris began to show what he could do last season. He caught just 12 passes but made them count for 322 yards. He showed his ability to break away against West Virginia, when he caught a short pass in the right flat and ran 35 yards for a touchdown.

But Harris said he also had a personality conflict with former Maryland coach Joe Krivak. Harris, an Afro-American Studies major, spoke what he felt, and wore clothing supporting causes he believed in.

Krivak was from the old school. He thought players should play, and not be heard.

"I wore what I wanted to anyway, but now I can just be myself," said Harris. "I just want to stay healthy, work hard and try to improve."

And Harris would like a shot at the National Football League.

But, of course, his size raised a few of the scouts' eyebrows when he walked out with those baggy gray shorts and spindly legs.

"Whatever happens happens," said Harris. "To me, size makes no difference on the football field."

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