Larry Harris said many teammates were successful after football. Some became doctors. A few were lawyers. Others decided to become coaches.
Harris has done pretty well himself. He's been in the oil business for 60 years, most of that as president of the New Mexico Oil Corporation in Roswell.
At age 94, Harris has no trouble dialing back 72 years and recalling those days as an Oklahoma Baptist University football player. A senior fullback from Guthrie, Harris helped the Bison finish the 1940 season with a 6-0-1 record and Oklahoma Collegiate Conference championship. Yet only a month later, school president John Raley announced the football program, despite its success, would be disbanded after a deficit of $8,000 for that season.
“It was a complete surprise,” said Harris, who is believed to be just one of two living members of OBU's last football team.
“I remember that day when we heard the news ... but it turned out to be just another day. What were we going to do? Mr. Raley said he did not want to drop football, but the only way we were going to be able to keep it was if somebody would give him $10,000. That's not very much these days, but back then, that was a lot of money to raise.”
As a football fan and prominent alum, Harris said he is thrilled that Oklahoma Baptist is bringing back varsity football. The Shawnee school will begin play in 2013, but coach Chris Jensen — OBU's first varsity 11 coach since W.W. Nicklaus — already has 100 players committed and plans to begin practices this fall.
Current varsity football budgets are in another stratosphere compared to 1940. But Harris said school administrators have done their homework.
“The big hang-up I had with them bringing back football, I kept wondering if they had the financial backing to do it,” Harris said. “After talking to them about it, I'm very comfortable and satisfied. It seems to me the management has done a good job of researching this.”
Harris was one of the few seniors the '40 team had on its roster. That Bison squad was led by quarterback J.C. Meeks, a sophomore from Chandler. He was deceptive, not afraid to razzle and dazzle.
Meeks ran one play, a reverse, in which he handed off to Harris. Then a 6-foot, 175-pounder, Harris rumbled for 10 yards before impact. But just before Harris hit the ground, he flipped the ball backward to halfback Harold Slape who fell a foot shy of a touchdown. OBU would score and go on to whip Southeastern State 21-6 to clinch the OCC title.
Otherwise, “my best ability was blocking,” Harris said with a laugh. “I could make tackles on defense, and I punted some, too.”
After OBU football was shut down, several underclassmen transferred and continued to play. Harris enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He spent five years in the military, four of those in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. After the war, he helped raise three children “who got tired of my football stories,” he said.
Harris still goes to the office for a few hours each day, “although I don't get much done. I'm almost blind, and I'm hard of hearing. But I try to stay busy. I guess I'm doing pretty well for an old man.”