Harris did not let them down. He helped the Mountaineers convert 14 of 20 third downs against a well-executed zone defense. "It took Donnie [McPherson, last year's All-America quarterback for the Orangemen] five years to learn not to force the ball," said Syracuse coach Dick MacPherson. "Major is special."
After the game, Harris slowly made his way out of the stadium, signing autographs for anyone who asked and simultaneously holding a conversation with a potential Mountaineer recruit from Texas. The high school player wore several expensive-looking chains around his neck. Harris wears no jewelry at all. "I see you brought your gold with you," Harris said, smiling. "Next year, bring your moves. O.K.?"
In the stadium parking lot Harris, with his mother and father, Sandra and Joseph, his high school coach, Ron Wabby, and his girlfriend, Kiss Bey, accepted congratulations from a group of tailgaters. Someone offered Bey $200 for her No. 9 jersey. She declined.
"You know, he is special," said Wabby as Harris mingled with the crowd. "There will never be another one like Maj. And his potential hasn't been scratched yet. Maj deserves everything he gets. He's a great player, but even more, he's a great kid."
Pittsburgh's Hill District can be a sinful place. Harris grew up there, but he was always above it. Joblessness, dope, liquor and crime play a mean game of tag up on the Hill. "You can get into some things and not get out," says Lamont Harris, one of Major's two older brothers. "I have to credit my parents for taking us through." Lamont, 25, played basketball at St. Francis College of Pennsylvania in Loretto, and was Harris's sports tutor. "As soon as Major could walk, he was out there on the playground, playing baseball, basketball and quarterback." The older men who sat and watched the games on the Hill held Major in highest esteem. "I thought I was pretty good." says Lamont, "but they'd point at Major and say, 'You know, he's the one.' "
Major says he has never had a cigarette in his mouth and has never touched hard liquor. He tasted beer when he was 16, didn't like it and hasn't drunk any since. "When I come home now, it makes me sad," says Harris reflectively. He is sitting by a second-floor window in the housing project where his family lives. "So I get strength from God. I read my Bible. When I have nowhere else to turn, I turn to God."
Three boys appear below the window. One of them is tossing a football up into the air. "Young men, what do you want to do?" asks Harris.
"We want to burn Major." says one boy, trying to look tough. Harris smiles. "I'll be right out," he says. Minutes later, Harris is on the playground throwing passes in the rain.
Before Harris was in his teens, he was a fastball-curveball pitcher who could also play any other baseball position. When he was 16, the Oakland A's inquired about the speed of his fastball. But he had been struck in the temple by a line drive when he was 12, and had lost his enthusiasm for the sport. In basketball he starred at guard for a Brashear team that, in his junior year, barely lost the Pennsylvania AAAA state championship game to a Carlisle team led by Jeff Lebo, now at North Carolina, and Billy Owens, now at Syracuse. In his senior year, Harris averaged 23.6 points, nine rebounds and three steals per game.
As a quarterback, he threw for 26 touchdowns in his last two high school seasons as Brashear went undefeated in league play. In both his junior and senior years he was named Player of the Year in Pittsburgh's City League by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.