This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
We Cal fans sure do love to wax poetic about our favorite players. We've got our Hall of Fame. We've got our player of the decade. We can't stop expressing our Marshawnthusiasm. Some of us use amazing kung fu video skills to honor our idols. Some of us are even lucky enough to spend an afternoon with our most beloved players. I guess I could just end this post right here and let you all click on links to your heart's content! But we here at CGB take our selling out much more seriously than that!
I could spend many words describing all of the players I've loved over the years. During my boyhood I loved a series of 90s wide receivers. Sean Dawkins, Iheanyi Uwaezuoke, Dameane Douglas and Bobby Shaw all wormed their way into my heart. In the 2000s I took great joy at yelling Joe Ma-NIN-go or BANTA-CAIN when either defenders recorded a sack. And Deltha O'Neal singlehandedly made Cal football watchable in the late 90s. But for today let's focus on a more neglected athlete.
Let me describe to you one of my favorite Golden Bears of all time. I think it's safe to say that this Bear is the undisputed best to ever play at his position. He owns multiple NCAA records. He was a consensus All-American, and he has enjoyed a long and productive professional career. This illustrious athlete? Nick Harris, of course!
Nick was cursed (or, perhaps blessed) to toil at Cal from 1997 to 2000, four years that didn't exactly see Cal find a great deal of success. But! BUT! It did allow him to gain invaluable experience and the time to hone his craft to an absurd degree. How much time? How about setting and NCAA record for most punts (322) and net yardage (13,621) in a career. That's approximately 80 punts per season, and more than 7 punts per game! Go Bears!
Harris's junior campaign has to be one of the greatest individual seasons in Cal history. He averaged 44 yards per punt despite often being asked to pooch punt the ball, and his longest was a booming 70 yarder. Harris and a vintage Hit Squad defense somehow managed to keep Cal competitive despite an offense not safe to be viewed by the general public.
His crowning moment was undoubtedly against UCLA on the road in 1999:
The Bears had put the Bruins in a hole when Nick Harris' 34-yard punt was downed at the UCLA 1. Harris later had a 68-yard punt, and averaged 53.1 yards for seven kicks.
So if you take away a 34 yard punt that could not have possibly traveled any further, Harris averaged 56 yards for his other 6 punts! His punting and a dominating defensive performance allowed Cal to escape with an ugly, penalty and turnover filled 17-0 victory. I distinctly remember watching this game because of Harris. Cal scored an early touchdown, but otherwise struggled moving the ball. By the 2nd quarter I was actively looking forward to punts, because that meant Harris would get the chance to pin UCLA deep. And the best chance of Cal scoring would always be a turnover or safety created by the Hit Squad. The Nick Harris for Heisman campaign was in full swing!
So thanks, Nick. I never thought I'd ever appreciate a punter so much, but you taught me about the joy of special teams. Say hi to Zach and Jahvid for us!