Growing up around the Oklahoma football program, Jay Wilkinson wanted to be Jimmy Harris.
“I was 7 years behind Jimmy, and my brother Pat was 5 and he was a hero to us,” Jay Wilkinson said of Harris. “He was somebody we wanted to emulate. All of us who played ball wanted to grow up and play just like him.”
Harris started 25 games at quarterback for the Sooners from 1954-56. He won them all, helping bring two national championships to Norman along the way.
He was the starting quarterback for more than half of Oklahoma's record 47-game winning streak.
Monday, Harris will be inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.
Jay Wilkinson, the son of legendary Sooners coach Bud Wilkinson, will present Harris into the hall.
Harris will join three teammates and Bud Wilkinson in the hall. Wilkinson was inducted in 1986, Tommy McDonald in 1991, Clendon Thomas in 1995 and Jerry Tubbs in 1999.
“There were so many good players at that period of time that Jimmy was probably not recognized for the role he played,” Jay Wilkinson said. “But when people look back and reflect on the record, I think it's certainly very appropriate.”
Harris died in 2011 at 76.
Harris never even made All-Big Seven at OU but was the model of a quarterback in Bud Wilkinson's Split-T offense.
“I don't think anybody ever executed the option play like Jim,” Jay said. “Jim was just one of those solid leaders and people that were so very effective at what he did. He had great quickness.”
When Harris took over at quarterback for the injured Gene Calame during the 1954 season, he was a confident-bordering-on-cocky kid from Texas.
“He had a flair about him that was just national champion confidence,” Gerald McPhail, Harris' teammate in 1954 and 1955, said when Harris died. “A ‘here I am, come on guys, let's go get it now.' He made everybody feel confident. He had that air about him that was really special.”
When Harris was at quarterback, he called his own plays.
In 1956 against Colorado, the Sooners trailed 19-6 at halftime and on the first possession of the second half faced a fourth-and-2 from their own 28. Harris called a running play, giving it to Thomas for the first down. OU came back for a 27-19 win.
“Jimmy was always one of my dad's favorites,” Jay said. “He was such an extraordinary leader.”
He was the polar opposite of Bud Wilkinson, but the pair formed a strong bond that lived on long after Harris' playing days ended.
Harris was just 10 when his father died.
“My dad, in many respects, served as a surrogate father to Jim,” Jay said. “They continued to talk really until dad's death.”
So when Harris was conflicted over what career path to take after spending a couple of years in the NFL as a defensive back, it wasn't a surprise when Harris sought his mentor's advice.
“I would get my geology degree,” Wilkinson told Harris. “When you turn about 45, you're going to wish that you were a geologist.”
Harris returned to play pro football for two years but started a successful career in business even before his playing career ended, eventually co-founding Midroc Operating Company.