Which Wyoming Cowboy wore it best? No. 23
CHEYENNE -- Do you ever see a number on a Wyoming football jersey and think of all the great players to wear it? Yeah, me too. In this daily series, I’ll give you my take on which Pokes’ football player was the best ever to don each number. The criteria are simple: How did he perform at UW? What kind of impact did he have on the program?
No. 23 – Marcus Harris
Wide receiver, 1993-96, Minneapolis, Minn.
Résumé in Laramie
Let’s just start with what statistics Marcus Harris owns at Wyoming: Receiving yards (4,518), Most 1,400-yard seasons (3), Single-season yards per game (137.5), 100-yard receiving games (24), most single-season receiving yards (1,650 in 1996), most single-game receiving yards (260 in 1996), most receptions in a game (16 twice in 1996) and Bilenikoff Trophies (1). When Harris left UW after the fall of ’96, he was the NCAA record holder in yards. He led the nation in receiving in 1994 and 1996. He finished second in 1994. He earned All-American status in 1996 and finished his Wyoming career with 38 touchdown catches, second to only Ryan Yarborough’s 42.
He was literally the best wide receiver in the history of college football when his college career ended.
Do I need to say more?
I don’t, but I will.
Marcus Harris owned nearly every major NCAA receiving record, including yards, 100-yard games and most 1,400-yard seasons. In the UW record books, he also owns the single-season yards per game mark, most receptions in a game, single-game yards and leads the Pokes in receptions.
Arguably his most impressive performance came in Ames, Iowa, in 1996. The senior wide out snagged a school-record 16 passes for 223 yards in the Cowboys 41-38 overtime win over Iowa State. Harris caught two touchdown passes from Josh Wallwork that night, including a 12-yarder in the fourth quarter to pull Wyoming with in seven.
That night Harris put himself in serious consideration for the Heisman Trophy. He even out-shined ISU’s candidate, Troy Davis.
“The Heisman is never a part of my vocabulary,” Harris told reporters following the game. “It’s nice to be honored with the mention of it, but when I drop a pass I say to myself ‘Darn, I dropped a pass for the team,’ not ‘Darn, I won’t win a Heisman.’”
Later that season, in a must-win game for the Pokes, Harris tied his own reception record with 16 catches against Colorado State in frigid Ft. Collins. In a game that will forever be known as “The Drive,” Harris put up 191 against the Rams, helping the Cowboys punch their ticket to the inaugural WAC Championship game in Las Vegas.
Making it to the title game was big for Harris but beating CSU for the first time in his career was even sweeter, he said.
Before Wyoming put a 66-0 shellacking on Hawaii the week after the Iowa State game, the Rainbows head coach, Fred vonAppen said he had finally figured out a way to stop Harris.
“We thought about food poisoning for Harris at the pregame meal, but I don’t think that would work out,” vonAppen told reporters. “We’ll try to manage and control him and get his production down, but I don’t know if that’s really possible. He’s a true All-American receiver.”
At the end of the season, Harris was indeed an All-American. He was also named the Biletnikoff Trophy winner. That award is given to the best wide receiver in the nation.
Those two games weren’t even his most dominant though.
Harris’ best single-game performance came during his sophomore season at Fresno State. The Cowboys didn’t shine on the scoreboard that night, but Harris’ stat line read like this: 10 receptions, 260 yards, 26-yard average.
Standing 6-foot, 2-inches and 216 pounds, Harris was never known for his speed. But he could catch anything thrown his way and mastered the underneath passing game, which opened up all kinds of possibilities in Joe Tiller’s high-flying attack.
Harris is thought of as one of the best players to ever suit up in Laramie. His numbers say he is the best. A school that has featured names like Ryan Yarborough, Jovon Bouknight, Wendell Montgomery and Malcom Floyd, among others, no one shined the way No. 23 did on fall Saturdays in the mid-90’s.
Harris was a seventh-round selection of the Detroit Lions in 1997.
He currently resides in his home city of Minneapolis where he coaches football and basketball. This year marks the third straight that Harris has been selected as a finalist for the College Football Hall of Fame.
Wyoming’s own, John Wendling. From 2003-06, the Rock Springs native roamed the defensive backfield for the Pokes, where he compiled 154 tackles and seven interceptions from the safety spot.
Known for his freakish athletic ability, Wendling was named first-team All-Mountain West after his senior season. The previous three years he earned honorable mention in the conference.
One of Wendling’s more memorable games came in 2006 when the Utah Utes paid a visit to War Memorial Stadium. Wearing their late-90’s inspired throwback jerseys, Wyoming’s defense played some old school football that afternoon, sacking Brett Ratliff six times.
Until that day, the Utes signal caller hadn’t been sacked once.
One of those punishing hits came from Wendling, who also forced a fumble on the play. Three plays later, Karsten Sween hit Michael Ford for a 24-yard touchdown pass to give the Pokes a commanding 24-0 halftime lead.
Wyoming would hang on to humble the Utes, 31-15. Eric Weddle, Utah’s All-American safety, was supposed to be the highlighted player that day.
Wendling was selected in the sixth round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. Wendling played seven seasons for the Bills and Lions.
Who else wore No. 23
Larry Garcia (RB), Mike Dennis (DB), Eric Coleman (CB), Dwight Driver (RB), Rich Sweeney (S), Cliff Brye (RB), Justin Watts (P), Tyler Scharman (RB), Derrick McMahen (S), Ghaali Muhammad (S), Tim Kamana (S), Mike Green (RB), Xazavian Valladay (RB), Alphonzo Andrews (RB)
- All available rosters and photos courtesy of the University of Wyoming. If we missed one, please email Cody@7220sports.com.