Connor Harris sat in the coaches’ office at Blue Springs South High School Friday afternoon, graciously recounting his glory days as a Jaguar when first-year head football coach Matt Klein walked in with his young son.
Harris had been asked about his performance in the 2011 40-37 Class 6 state championship win over Christian Brothers College High School, in which the former Examiner Offensive Player of the Year scored on a 58-yard run, picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown, led the Jaguars to the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter, kicked two field goals, averaged 43 yards on six punts, picked off another pass late in the game and then bulled his way for a final, clinching first down to assure the second football state title in South history.
Klein grinned, casually looked up from his computer screen and asked, “You didn’t throw for 300 yards?”
Both men laughed. In a short period of time, they have already developed a mutual admiration for the job at hand.
“We’re so excited that Connor is on our staff,” said Klein, who replaced former coach Jon Oyler, who added Harris to his staff last season before stepping down. “Connor has the ultimate respect of everyone here at South. He’s been a standout at the high school and college levels and spent some time in the NFL. He has the passion and the knowledge we need to return to the success he enjoyed as a player when he helped the team win that state championship.”
Harris believes Klein and his staff can lead the Jaguars back to the promised land.
“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Coach Klein, and I played for some of the guys who are still on our staff,” Harris said. “Last year, I coached the corners and this year I’m moving over to the linebackers, and I’m really excited about that, because that was the position I played.”
Harris never left the field his senior year at South, and went on to enjoy great success as a linebacker at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo.
As a junior he totaled 184 tackles (an NCAA Division II record and an MIAA single-season record), 86 solo stops, 4.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and two interceptions. He also set the MIAA record for most career tackles with 495.
That success earned him a spot on The Associated Press Little All-America third team and the NCAA Division II Conference Commissioners Association All-America first team and he was named MIAA Co-Defensive Player of the Year.
Those numbers attracted the attention of NFL scouts, and the undersized, 6-foot, 220-pounder signed a contract as an undrafted free agent with the New York Jets. After he was released from the Jets, he spent some time in Phoenix and Cincinnati but never made an NFL roster and walked away from the game he loved and had dominated.
“I told myself that I was never going to be in the NFL chasing a paycheck, and when I was released by Cincinnati, that was it,” Harris said. “I came back home and started looking for a job.”
He actually began working for his former coach at Lindenwood, Patrick Ross, at Kansas Turf, out of Meriden, Kansas. The company, which is also known as Mammoth Sports Construction, provides artificial turf fields for high schools and colleges and recently helped with the redesign at Fort Osage High School, along with the University of Missouri practice field and Kansas State playing field.
“It’s a great job, and I really enjoy it,” Harris said, “and I can work around my time coaching at South, so it’s perfect. We’re really growing and expanding and are all over the place – Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
“My area is Missouri, and I live here in Blue Springs, so none of my trips are that far away, which is great for me and my family.”
Former South head coach Greg Oder, who led the Jaguars to three state titles – including the 2011 crown – once said of the former standout, “His state championship performance was just another day at the office for Connor. He’s been doing that for us all season. Big players, make big plays in big games. And that’s what Connor did for us in 2011.”
And now, Harris wants to make a difference on the sidelines, to help Klein and the Jaguars staff lead the team with such a rich football legacy back to the promised land.
“I feel like Coach Klein and the staff are going to do a great job,” Harris said. “Coach Klein reminds me a lot of Coach Oder. He knows football and he knows how to coach and handle his players. I can’t wait for the season to start. I wish it started tomorrow.”