Not Backing Down|
Harrell (left) and Morris (right) during the Red Raiders 11-win season in 2008
Nov. 9, 2013
BY NICK KOSMIDER
The Graham Harrell that Eric Morris knows isn't just waiting by the phone, hoping for another opportunity to come. Instead, he's working as hard as he's ever had to make sure he's ready when it does come along.
"He's been about football, first and foremost, his whole life," says Morris, who played with Harrell for three seasons, including Texas Tech's magical 2008 season. "He hasn't really gotten involved in things outside of it. He's been able to keep his head down and keep distractions away."
Morris, now Tech's inside receivers coach, watched that type of passion evolve in Harrell during their three years as teammates. The burning desire to win was always evident, but it had to be channeled.
"He kind of grew into a player-coach," Morris says. "His sophomore year he was a little bit hot-headed out there. Not everything was going perfect. But it was fun being in that huddle with him for three years, watching him grow up. By later in his sophomore year you really saw him change into a great leader, and guys started trusting in him more and more."
Harrell proved worthy of that trust with his performance on the field, which would eventually set a slew of school, Big 12 and NCAA records. By the end of his sophomore season, Harrell had thrown for 4,555 yards and 38 touchdowns, and his 412 completions were most in the country. And to think, he was only getting started.
He smashed record books his junior season, tallying an eye-popping 5,705 yards and 48 touchdowns. In the Gator Bowl against Virginia, he rallied the Red Raiders for 17 fourth-quarter points to earn a 31-28 victory, taking home game MVP honors.
By his senior year, Harrell was a full-fledged star, but more importantly he had turned into the team's unquestioned leader, known within the walls of the locker room as much for poise and grace under fire as for his head-turning numbers.
"It was just remarkable to watch him out there," Morris said. "You could see him change in the huddle. There was just a calmness about him. Graham may have been the most competitive kid I have ever been around, just hated losing in whatever game he was playing. I think that came off negative early in his career, but as his career went on he learned to hone it in a more positive way. He was able to get people to think like he did as time went on."
Harrell's ability to grow as a quarterback and a leader led to one of the greatest seasons in Texas Tech history and arguably its greatest game, a 2008 win against No. 1 Texas in which Harrell threw for 476 yards and two touchdowns.
None was bigger than the last-second heave to Michael Crabtree in the closing seconds that gave the Red Raiders a stunning 39-33 victory. Harrell's comments after the game gave insight into his desire to compete, his yearning to win.
"As a quarterback, that's what you live for, a chance to bring your chance back down the stretch against a great team," he said that night. "All we needed was a field goal, but a touchdown is even sweeter. If you're a quarterback and you don't want to be in that situation, you should probably change positions. Down one with a minute-thirty left, I knew we had plenty of time, and I knew we had the players to do it out there, so it's a situation you look forward to."
Despite his record-breaking success - Harrell is still the school's all-time leading passer - the Ennis, Texas native still had to scratch and claw for every opportunity he had at the next level. Nothing was given.
Harrell first landed in the Canadian Football League in the 2009, but by 2010 the Green Bay Packers were interested enough in the young arm to sign him to their practice squad. His steady improvement last year earned him the backup spot behind all-pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
It was a spot, Harrell told a Lubbock reporter last year, he never doubted he would reach.
"I have always believed in myself," he said then. "My dad from a young age always said, `Believe you belong.' No matter what age or level you're at, believe you belong. You have to do that and believe in yourself that you can play. I've always felt like no matter where I was, I was good enough to play and compete at that level. I've never doubted myself."
And Morris knows Harrell isn't doubting himself know, even after being released by the Packers this summer, forced to face the adversity that a multi-billion entity like professional football can hand out.
"He faces adversity really well," Morris says. "I think if Graham does get a shot, he pretty much knows this will be his last shot, so I think he'll take it seriously, put all the time and effort he needs into it and give it his best shot."
For the Red Raiders, he never gave anything less.