Black History Month: Ike Harris
Today's Black History Month story was written by athletics communications undergraduate intern Rachael Gerdes.
AMES, Iowa - There have been countless student-athletes who have garnered an Iowa State bachelor's degree. Many have even gone on to play professionally in their given sport. But few have become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Ike Harris' resume showcases successes in each segment of his life. This former Cyclone sat on the ISU Foundation Board of Governors and the Dean's Advisory Council for the Business College. He has was recognized as ISU's Outstanding Alumnus in 1987 and Cy's Favorite Alum in 1991.
Harris, a wide receiver who lettered for the Cyclones from 1971-73, has many outstanding accomplishments. He acknowledges that these successes were possible because of the mentality of the Iowa State football program. Amazingly, this Cyclone great and NFL standout at wide receiver caught just one pass in high school.
"Iowa State was the only Division I scholarship I was offered," Harris said. "The experience that finished my development, from an attitude standpoint, was the coordination, hard work, understanding and life lessons of football. Those were more important to me than just the game; they were my mindset."
The Edmondson, Ark. native played a key role in Iowa State's first-ever bowl game appearance, the 1971 Sun Bowl. Between Harris, Keith Krepfle and Willie Jones, the receiving trio combined for 94 passes in the 1971 season. The following year Harris played in the Liberty Bowl, a stone's throw from his hometown.
"The Liberty Bowl was significant to me because it was a back-to-back bowl and it was within 10 miles of where I grew up," Harris said. "For the first time my family got to see me play in person and that is a big memory for me."
The Cyclone receivers brought their own abilities to the team. According to Harris, Jones was great at punt-kick returns; Krepfle was the hardest worker on the team; while Harris possessed size, speed and agility. They were an aggressive trio.
"We were a very tightknit group because we came in together," Harris said. "The blessing was that Willie Jones, Keith Krepfle and I were interested in winning games. We weren't interested in statistics, just winning games."
George Amundson was the quarterback for Harris' junior season, 1972. He credits Harris for his ability to go across the middle, weaving between linebackers and safeties. Harris could catch the ball in traffic. Amundson and Harris also created a pass used by professional and college athletes today.
"Now you hear about the quarterback throwing to the back of the shoulder," Amundson said. "I think Ike and I probably invented that. His wingspan was about six and a half feet. If I could get the ball anywhere close to him, he would bring it in. He made me look like a semi-good quarterback."
Johnny Majors was the head coach at Iowa State from 1968-1972. Majors vividly remembers Ike Harris.
"He was an incredible player, an outstanding student and a very conscientious, hardworking man," Coach Majors said.
In his collegiate career, Harris made 76 receptions for 1,226 yards, but statistics can't showcase the talent and ability of Harris and the pass-catching trio. Harris went on to play a total of eight years in the World Football League and the National Football League. He was drafted in 1974 by the St. Louis Cardinals (NFL), but later took an offer from the Southern California Sun (WFL). He had recorded 3,305 receiving yards in 211 receptions when he retired from the New Orleans Saints in 1981.
"The numbers and statistics don't mean a lot to me," Harris said. "My proudest accomplishment was that I was able to get a scholarship to Iowa State University, that put a lot of other things in motion."
Iowa State was the beginning of it all for Harris. A certified public accounting firm from Des Moines recruited him for a summer internship his sophomore year.
"I'm convinced that I would have never become a CPA were it not for the Iowa State football program," Harris said. "Being reached by the leaders in the CPA firm was unexpected. I'm not sure that would have happened at any other University."
After his professional football career, Harris was eager for the next step in his life. Receiving his bachelor of science in accounting from Iowa State, he was encouraged to continue on with his love of corporate responsibilities. Feeling that an M.B.A. would help him move from finance to general management and operations, Harris continued his education at the the University of Minnesota.
In 2007 Harris was inducted into the ISU Letterwinners' Hall of Fame for not only his elite athleticism, but for his continued dedication to furthering Iowa State's reputation. In addition to the honors bestowed from Iowa State University, in his professional career Harris was listed among the "Top 75 Most Powerful African-Americans in Corporate America" by Black Enterprise Magazine in 2005.
"I also credit Iowa State for my family," Harris said. "I met my wife at Iowa State and we got married after my junior year. Beyond the attitude of 'I can succeed-I will succeed,' I would say Iowa State's biggest gift to me is my wife."
Harris' teammates praise him for his contributions to Iowa State. Amundson remembers the respect Harris had, on and off the field.
"The biggest thing that I remember about Ike is that he afforded me a lot of respect," Amundson said. "He respected the older players who had been there a while and the ones who were ahead of him. He was a quiet man and someone very special to me and Iowa State."
Majors has been able to stay in contact with Harris over the years, most recently last year at the 40th anniversary celebration of the first Iowa State bowl game, the 1971 Sun Bowl.
"I am so impressed with him as a young man and even more proud of his accomplishments in his business ventures," Majors said.
Harris' attributes his "I can succeed-I will succeed" attitude to the Cyclone football program. Harris cites that Iowa State is the right place to prepare for professional sports and careers beyond graduation because the athletics and academic competition is second to none. He also denotes his successes to the goal-setting he learned on the field.
"I've set goals throughout the years and regardless of how aggressive the goal was, it wasn't aggressive enough," Harris said. "Over time what I've come to understand that we tend to not shoot high enough, we don't reach high enough and as I continue to progress, I've gotten better at stretching and challenging myself. The football mentality of working hard and doing the right thing pays off because you will reach your goal."
The lesson student-athletes can all learn from Ike Harris is that anything is possible. He offers current student-athletes these words of advice:
"First, set your goals high because you may achieve it and the last thing you want is to achieve something not high enough. Second, learn the lesson of football because it's not about statistics, it's about the correlation between hard work and reward. Be graceful about your successes and learn from failure. Third, prepare for the second half. I was done playing professional football at the ripe-old-age of 30. Many athletes fail to prepare for the second half of their life, which is actually the longer and more important half where you have the power to influence people, give back and make a contribution to society. While you're still playing, you're preparing for the second half at Iowa State."
Harris' goal-oriented approached has earned him many rewards in life and most importantly, respect.