Commentary

Harris sparks Alabama A&M offense

Originally Published: September 16, 2009
By Donald Hunt | Special to ESPN.com

Alabama A&M coach Anthony Jones knew he had some terrific offensive players coming into this season. But the player who has garnered the most attention has been talented Bulldogs wide receiver Thomas Harris.

Harris put on a big-time performance in Alabama A&M's 31-24 win over Hampton last week. The 6-0, 174-pound senior had 10 receptions for a career-high 224 yards and two touchdowns (of 44 and 32 yards). Harris helped junior quarterback Kevin Atkins -- who leads the Southwestern Athletic Conference in passing -- to an 18-of-30, 303-yard day (with the two TDs and no interceptions).

Harris' receiving-yards total is the third-highest in the Football Championship Subdivision this season and the most by a SWAC player since Timothy Manning of Jackson State had 233 on seven receptions (including two TDs) against Mississippi Valley State on Sept. 28, 2002. As a result of his brilliant efforts, Harris was chosen as the SWAC Offensive Player of the Week.

"We really felt like he could do a lot of damage against them," Jones said. "We just moved him around a little bit. We tried to create some matchups. He was able to take full advantage of those matchups.

"A couple plays he made, just one word to describe them was 'outstanding.' He caught one ball, the guy was pass interference with him. The guy was holding him the whole way. He just reached out with one hand with it, caught it, dove and caught it with one hand. The guy was draped all over him. He still made the catch. Of course, we took the catch as opposed to the penalty. It was a long play. He had a real, real productive day. He's an outstanding football player."

Harris established himself as an All-American candidate and an NFL prospect last year. In 2008, he had 72 receptions for 1,208 yards and 7 TDs. He averaged 16.9 yards catch. He's already off to an impressive start this season with 14 catches for 249 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 17.8 yards a reception.

"He has what I would call the complete package," Jones said. "He's one of our captains. He does a great job of studying the game plan. He does whatever you ask him to do. He has real good speed. He has real quickness. He's a gamer. He's just not satisfied with just catching the ball. He makes things happen afterwards, which is why his pass-per-catch ratio is so high."

Harris has some good players around him. Atkins is a magnificent quarterback; he has completed 37-of-58 passes for 535 yards and 5 TDs. Explosive running back Ulysses Banks has gained 213 yards on 45 carries for an average of 4.7 yards a carry. He has scored one touchdown. Banks is the second-leading rusher in the SWAC. Jones likes the Harris-Banks combination.

"We're very fortunate to have a great one-two punch in that manner," Jones said. "We got a guy that can beat you in the air and beat you on the ground. Our team is starting to realize and understand that."

Alabama A&M (2-0) hosts Jacksonville State (0-2) at Louis Crews Stadium in Huntsville, Ala., on Saturday night. Jones isn't fooled by their record.

"They're playing really good," Jones said. "They gave Florida State all they could handle. I'm trying to watch film on them now. We got to get ready for that. We most definitely got our hands full."

Look for the Bulldogs to use Banks on the ground and for Harris to be ready to make big plays when they go in the air.

HBCU notes

• Grambling State defensive end Christian Anthony was named SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Anthony made eight tackles (six solo, and 2.5 tackles for loss), one sack, two quarterback hits, one forced fumble and two interceptions, both resulting in defensive touchdowns in Grambling State's 38-17 win over Northwestern State.

• Florida A&M quarterback Curtis Pulley was selected as the MEAC Offensive Player of the Week for the second straight week. Pulley tallied 243 yards of total offense as FAMU defeated Winston-Salem State 34-10. He completed 17 of 21 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns.

• South Carolina State linebacker David Erby was chosen as the MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Erby played a key role in limiting Bethune-Cookman to 97 total yards on offense, including 14 yards rushing. He had 12 tackles (nine solo) with two tackles for loss (14 yards overall). He also had one sack.

• Florida A&M punt returner LeRoy Vann received the MEAC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. Vann recorded two punt returns for touchdowns in the Rattlers' win over the Rams. His two return TDs, one for 95 yards and another for 80, helped him set a Florida A&M career record for punt return touchdowns (five and counting).

• North Carolina A&T running back Mike Mayhew earned the MEAC Rookie of the Week honors. He helped the Aggies post a 17-13 win over Norfolk State. Mayhew scored the winning touchdown for the second consecutive week. Mayhew rushed 14 times for 87 yards and one touchdown. He carried the ball on every play of a 61-yard drive to start the second half that ended with an 8-yard scoring run.

• There's a big early-season matchup in the SWAC this week. Defending SWAC and HBCU national champion Grambling State travels to Jackson State in a battle of the past two conference champions. Both GSU and JSU are two-time defending division champions and will meet for the fifth time since 2007.

• Grambling State's 38-17 victory over Northwestern State was the 500th win in the school's program.

• SBN Sports Network's latest Black College Football Poll has the top schools ranked in this order:
1. South Carolina State
2. Florida A&M
3. Grambling State
4. Prairie View A&M
5. Shaw
6. Alabama A&M
7. Southern
8. Albany State
9. Hampton
10. Tuskegee

• Prairie View A&M quarterback K.J. Black had an eye-opening performance in the Panthers' 21-18 loss at New Mexico State. Black, a transfer from Western Kentucky, completed 12-of-14 passes for 101 yards with one touchdown, had three carries for 31 yards and one touchdown, and also scored on a two-point conversion run.

In the fourth quarter, Black led a Prairie View A&M comeback, scoring on a 9-yard run and later threw a 27-yard scoring pass to Anthony Weeden. Black then scored on the conversion run, but the Panthers couldn't get any closer.

Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. You can reach him at dhunt37261@aol.com.