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Sports >  WSU football

‘It was my time to step up’: Ahead of final game in Pullman, Washington State slot Travell Harris reflects on Cougar career

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 17, 2021

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – A football whiz with a naturally magnetic personality, Travell Harris made a seamless transition from “the young guy to the vet” in early 2020.

The standout Washington State slotback felt an obligation to adopt a captain’s role after former coach Mike Leach departed the program.

“It was my time to step up,” he said.

He took it in stride, developing into a guiding figure that younger players and WSU newcomers are inclined to gravitate toward.

“He has so much experience and so much knowledge of the game,” junior transfer slot Lincoln Victor said. “Travell is one of those guys I’m always sitting next to in meetings.

“When you really get to know the guy and you get to sit down and talk with him, and see how he views the game, there’s no other person I’d rather sit next to and play with side by side.”

Harris, a fifth-year Cougar, will be one of 14 players honored Friday for senior night at Gesa Field before WSU (5-5, 4-3 Pac-12) kicks off against Pac-12 opponent Arizona.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Spokesman-Review last month, the Tampa, Florida, product confirmed that this will be his final campaign in Pullman. He’ll be shooting for the NFL draft, rather than accepting an extra year of eligibility – granted by the NCAA in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s my last year and you only get college once, so I’ve tried to cherish these moments,” he said.

It’s been a season that’s tested Harris’ leadership qualities to the utmost extent. He was one in a handful of experienced Cougars to take on extra duties and help steer the team through a trying situation after coach Nick Rolovich and four WSU assistants were fired Oct. 18.

“He did a good job of saying, ‘Hey, let’s go – we’re all in this together,’ ” interim coach Jake Dickert said.

Harris, tabbed by Dickert as an “emotional fire-starter,” was well suited for the added responsibilities.

“Travell is one of those guys who is passion. He plays with passion, he lives with passion,” Dickert said. “He plays with emotion, and I think he’s done a good job of channeling those emotions and still putting his best foot forward. … When he’s rolling and feeling good, when he’s confident in what we’re doing, then everyone else is.”

Good thing, because Harris is perpetually dialed in.

At 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, he’s a slippery ball-carrier boasting an impressive stop-and-go ability, breakaway speed and sure hands.

Harris, who has appeared in every WSU game since 2018, will go down as one of the program’s all-time greats. He has accumulated 1,868 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns on 165 receptions. He’s the school’s record holder for kick returns and kick-return yardage, and is steadily moving up WSU’s list for career all-purpose yardage – Harris is fourth with 4,023 yards.

“I’m trying to put my name in history,” he said. “I have a lot I’m trying to achieve. I’m not done yet. You’re going to see a lot as we finish this season.”

A two-time, All-Pac-12 honoree for his kick returning and once for receiving, Harris is in the midst of his finest season in Pullman.

He has registered 683 yards and seven scores on 62 catches, and ranks in the top 40 nationally in kick-return average (21.8) and 15th in punt-return average (10.3). Harris is on the watch list for the Paul Hornung Award, which recognizes the nation’s most “versatile” player.

This year, Harris ranks third in the Pac-12 in receiving yardage and sits in a tie for first in touchdowns.

“He always seems to make plays,” Victor said. “He could be the last guy in the progression, and he’s just always open. When in doubt, find (No.) 1. Whoever picks him up at the next level is gonna have a heckuva time, because he’s a great player.”

Asked to recite his elevator pitch to scouts, Harris said it’s “all about heart over height.”

“I’m not the biggest or the strongest, but I know how to get the job done.”

Self-described as an electrifying game-breaker, Harris is confident in any route and welcomes the opportunity to line up in the backfield.

“I can change a game in a heartbeat, to be honest with you,” he said. “I think I can do it all. Whatever position on the offense, I really can do it. I feel like I’m an explosive guy, a deep-threat guy who can score at any given time, no matter the situation. If I had to put a title to my game: I’m electrifying and versatile. And with my character, I’m very coachable. That’s one of the biggest things I take pride in.”

Another major point of pride for Harris – he graduated last spring with a degree in sports management and a minor in business.

He’s kept his options open for his life after football and is pondering a future in sports administration, perhaps – a general manager, agent or athletic director. His mother thinks he’d be an ideal fit as a sports broadcaster, considering his upbeat attitude and gift of gab.

“I just wanted to stay around the sports industry,” he said. “Right now, I’m just focused on football. I want to play for as long as I can. I’m just very passionate about the game.”

Harris said he’s treating this season “like a pro year.” Having graduated, he devotes his downtime entirely to yoga sessions to relieve stress and augment his flexibility, and devours game film otherwise.

“It’s an everyday grind,” he said. “How the pros practice and train, that’s what I’m doing.”

In the off-seasons, he enjoys traveling to the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley for fishing expeditions, and is often accompanied by several Cougars offensive linemen. It reminds him of his home in Florida, where he’d go fresh-water fishing with his father, Willis.

Harris’ family resides in the heart of Tampa. He holds great admiration for his home state, and provides constant reminders that he’s proud to be a “Florida boy.”

He grew up idolizing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Rays and Lightning. Harris’ daily commute during his high school days took him past the Bucs’ Raymond James Stadium.

His ultimate goal, he said, is to break into the NFL so he can “provide for my family” and give back to his local community, which he said has struggled with poverty issues.

“Tampa everything,” he said. “I have a lot of people that look up to me back home. I’m influencing a lot of kids.”

Harris spoke candidly about his upbringing in a family filled with “go-getters.”

He credits his four older siblings for preparing him for the challenges of the real world, and his parents for shaping his extroverted personality and work ethic.

“My mother (Lancie), she’s an outgoing person – a happy, genuine person,” he said. “My father is a grinder. That’s where I get it from. I’m a go-getter and I like to bring happiness to people.”

Harris noted that he was “blessed to see a different lifestyle” when he enrolled in a small private school, Jesuit High, where he played out his prep career and earned All-State 5A honors as a senior receiver. Also a stellar track athlete, Harris was a two-star football prospect and landed on the Cougars’ radar by way of his versatility.

He soaked in advice from such former WSU notables as Dezmon Patmon, Easop Winston Jr. and Robert Lewis during a redshirt season in 2017, then broke out quickly a year later, exhibiting the high ceiling Cougars fans see today.

“I didn’t want to redshirt, but looking back, I’m glad I did,” he said. “I felt I was ready to go since the day I got here.”

Harris returned a kick 100 yards for his first career TD on Sept. 15, 2018, versus Eastern Washington. He caught a key third-down pass from Gardner Minshew to seal the Cougars’ College GameDay win over Oregon later that season.

He remembers those plays fondly because they came so early in a career that’s produced countless highlights. Most recently, he racked up 109 yards against third-ranked Oregon on Saturday. On Oct. 9, he set a career high in receiving yardage, torching Oregon State for 147.

In a crowded room of receivers over the past few years, Harris was “used to being the young guy.” In 2020, he emerged as the vet.

“It was my turn to share my experiences and help (young receivers) through college,” he said. “My number was called.

“There can be some pressure. You have to be the one to speak at a particular time. But man, I’ve been doing it. It’s something that comes natural with my voice and my character.”

‘They’re still both with us’

Harris plans to get tattoos of the numbers “3” and “26” after this season to honor fallen teammates Tyler Hilinski and Bryce Beekman.

“Those are my brothers. I keep them with me,” he said. “It’s a tragic event, a lot of emotions. Mental health is real in college football. It’s serious in sports and I feel like a lot of people need to understand that. They’re still both with us to this day.”

Harris on his ‘home away from home’

Much has been made of the “family atmosphere” that encapsulates Pullman and WSU. Harris offered an anecdote that sums up his experience living on the Palouse.

“It’s just trust. One day, I lost my keys outside my house,” he said. “Later on, my neighbor found them and just came up to me. It’s just genuine stuff. We all care about each other. There’s a certain different vibe here.”

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