As we look ahead to Saturday, and West Virginia’s reunion with sort-of former rival ECU, it’s hard not to remember what is arguably the best single game performance anyone in the gold and blue has had against the Pirates from Greenville.
I’m referring, of course, to two sport star and athletic freak Kay-Jay Harris and his 337 yards rushing against the ECU defense.
You can say the Pirates were dreadful that year (they were) and that land warfare isn’t exactly a marine-based raider’s wheelhouse (it isn’t), but what you can’t discount is the monstrous performance that the Tampa, FL native put on en route to setting a West Virginia and Big East rushing record, the former of which would stand for eight years until Tavon Austin became a human solar flare and torched the Oklahoma Sooners in a 500+ yard effort.
It’s also worth noting that Harris was not even on the field to start the game. That honor belonged to Jason Colson, who, while not having a terrible game in his own right, wasn’t able to post 223 yards from scrimmage by halftime, unlike his counter part.
And, while we’re doing a reflective of one of the greatest single-game exhibitions of talent in West Virginia history, it’s important to point out that there were few, if any, indications that this type of game was in Harris’ future. As ESPN’s Bruce Feldman pointed out back in 2004, the former Texas Rangers draft pick had a less than direct road to Morgantown. Back before JUCO products were the hot-ticket item for coaches seeking immediate on-field production, Harris was something of an oddity and, at the ripe age of 26, might as well have been a generation removed from his college peers.
Still, if the history of the West Virginia football has told us anything throughout its storied past, it’s that stars can and will be born seemingly out of the ether. Gaze fondly at Harris’ record-breaking run, if you don’t believe me. It truly was a case of a grown man playing a different game that Saturday night in Morgantown.
As a fan, seeing that type of coming out party during the season opener was hype fuel for the type of year Harris would have. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that 959 yards rushing, 10 touchdowns and a 5.8 per-carry average is a down year, because it’s not, but it does indicate the inconsistent and injury-checkered year that Harris and the Mountaineers posted in a 7-4 2004 campaign.
One can only imagine what Harris, who would be signed to the Miami Dolphins roster a year later as an UFA, would have looked like with another year of eligibility and an opportunity to line up next to a few former Mountaineer gridders named Pat White, Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt. I still wonder, honestly. The stuff of dreams, people.
Fast forward 13 years and ECU rolls into Morgantown this Saturday coming off a beating at the hands of FCS stalwart James Madison. West Virginia, on the other hand, lost in the final seconds to ACC title contender Virginia Tech. I don’t predict much of a fight from the Pirates, in all honesty and, while this series has produced a few good bouts over the years, I don’t believe we’ll see anything like that at noon on Saturday.
As for record-breaking performances, if anyone is gassed up to do it this weekend, my money is on Will Grier who just blew sizable holes through a renowned Hokie defense.
I will certainly be replaying Kay-Jay’s day in my mind from my perch on the 35-yard line. That much I can promise you. If senior running back Justin Crawford decides he’d like to take a swing at besting that record, I welcome him to it. I just wish he’d put on the #1 jersey to do it in.