December 20, 2016: Happy Birthday Billy Harris!

Michigan Football Team 1987 | bigbluefootballhistory.com
Billy Harris (#56) pictured with the 1987 Michigan football team. Harris is seated in the second row. He is the fifth man from the right. The Wolverines finished the 1987 season with an overall record of 8 wins and 4 losses. After winning the Big Ten title in 1986, they slipped to fourth place with a record of 5-3-0. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

I’ll bet you didn’t know that today is the day to wish a Maize and Blue Happy Birthday to Billy Harris. Let’s take a few minutes to remember another Buckeye who saw the light and came to Ann Arbor to fulfill his college football destiny.

Billy Harris Michigan Football | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Buckeye Billy Harris came to Ann Arbor from Xenia, Ohio. He left campus as a Michigan Man! Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

Billy Harris came to Ann Arbor from Xenia, Ohio in 1983. Harris was an all-state, all-league, and all-southwestern Ohio defender in 1982. Despite his Buckeye upbringing, he chose to play for Bo Schembechler’s Michigan Wolverines.

Harris did what many freshman do which is take your lickings in practice and learn the Michigan way to play football. You also have to go to class and study or Bo will be all over you – got it? Apparently, Billy learned his lessons well in that first red-shirt year.

Billy Harris played in eight games in 1984 and recorded six tackles (four solo and 2 assists). He played often enough and well enough to earn his first letter at Michigan in 1984. The bad news was that the Wolverines had the worst season of the Schembechler Era. Michigan finished at 6-6-0 that year and Wolverine Nation was not happy!

Billy and the rest of the Wolverines came back strong in 1985. A guy named Harbaugh was healed and ready to go. Things would be better in Ann Arbor. Harris started all twelve games that season. Michigan finished with a much-improved record of 10 wins, 1 loss and 1 tie. Interestingly, Michigan finished second in the Big Ten (6-1-1) and second in the nation in both the AP and UPI final polls.

Billy Harris had a break-out season in 1985. He recorded a career-best 34 tackles (22 solo and 12 assists) and broke up 3 passes that year. Harris also recovered a fumble against South Carolina. He had a career-best game in that tough loss to Iowa (10-12). Billy earned CBS Player-of-the-Game for his efforts. He recorded 9 tackles that night (five solo and 4 assists) and broke up a pass.  According to the 1986 Michigan Football Media Guide, he was also named Defensive Champion for his strong effort in a win over Ohio State. Harris made three solo tackles and assisted on two others. He also broke up two passes. His strong play in 1985 earned him Second Team All-Big Ten honors from the United Press International writers.

The Wolverines came back hungry for more in 1986. Billy Harris was looking to improve on his excellent season in 1985. Michigan won nine straight and sat at number two in the nation before Minnesota upset them by a score of 17-20 in late November 1986. Bo’s footballers won the next two games over OSU and Hawaii, but finished on a low note with a 15-22 Rose Bowl loss to Arizona State. Fortunately, the Wolverines did win the Big Ten Championship that season and finished with an overall record of 11 wins and 2 losses.

Billy Harris had another solid season in 1986. He had 23 solo stops and 10 assists for a total of thirty-three in his third year on the varsity. The 1986 Michigan Football Media Guide described him as an “excellent pass rusher with great speed and strength.” He put that speed and strength to good use in 1986!

Billy Harris | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Billy Harris is about to put somebody down on the turf – hard! Harris was a key player on the 1985 Michigan defense that led the nation in scoring defense at 8.2 points per game – wow! Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

As expected, Michigan would contend for another Big Ten Championship in 1987. The Wolverines had a strong group of talented seniors back for season # 109. The Maize and Blue started the season as the seventh ranked team in the country. That lofty status didn’t last too long! Apparently, sixteenth ranked Notre Dame didn’t buy into all the hype. Final score – Irish win 26-7 ouch! The 1987 season was not off to a great start, but things improved with three straight wins. Things were looking better until week number five in East Lansing. Michigan lost to the unranked Spartans by a score of 11-17. Unfortunately, Michigan also lost games to Indiana and Ohio State to finish with a final record of 8 wins and 4 losses.

In one word, the 1987 season was a “disappointment” for the Wolverines and for Billy Harris. His numbers were down after two very strong seasons. He still recorded 19 tackles, but I am sure he was not happy with that kind of production.

So, Billy Harris came to Michigan and was on some excellent teams (1985 and 1986). He was also on two (1984 and 1987) that were not up to the Michigan “standard.” Teams number 106 and 107 were highlights for Michigan and for Billy Harris. The Xenia “buckeye” came to Ann Arbor with some high hopes and I think he left with a lot of good memories. The talented Harris started thirty-five games for the Maize and Blue and played a lot of good football. Billy Harris helped Michigan win twenty-nine games and another Big Ten Championship. As my uncle used to say, “He done good!”

Congratulations Billy Harris on your Wolverine football career. Thank you for your contributions to the great history of Michigan football. I hope you have a very happy birthday today I’m sure you deserve it! Go Blue!

Barry Gallagher

Barry Gallagher

Barry Gallagher is a self-proclaimed Michigan Football Archeologist. He spends a considerable amount of his time digging into the 138-year history of Wolverine Football. He is on a mission to share his findings with Maize and Blue football fans everywhere. He is the author of one book about Michigan Football titled "21-194-13 Michigan Football's Greatest Era". His second book titled, "The Legend of Bo Schembechler-How an Unknown Buckeye Became the Winningest Coach in Michigan Football History" was released on September 12, 2017. You can learn something about Michigan Football everyday by going to his website at: bigbluefootballhistory.com. You can also follow him on Social Media.
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