Cougfan at 15: Nobody like 'The Ghost'

JEROME HARRISON, 2005

IN THE 15 YEARS since Cougfan.com launched as "a cyber pub, where all the talk is about one thing – the WSU Cougars," no athlete has dominated a season like Jerome Harrison. Not Jason Gesser. Not Klay Thompson. No one. "The Ghost" was a statistical firebomb, covering the landscape so completely in 2005 that he was consensus first-team All-America and a top-10 finisher for the Heisman.

The evidence of Harrison's greatness is resounding ...

  • His 1,900 rushing yards in '05 was the most in the nation at the end of the regular season, and the fifth-most prolific effort in a single season in Pac-10 history.

  • In eight of 11 games in 2005, he topped the 100-yard mark by halftime.

  • He set the Pac-10 record for most consecutive 100-plus yard games with 16, extending back to the last half of the 2004 season.

  • His 2,113 all-purpose yards was five yards shy of the great Bernard Jackson on WSU's single-season list; and

  • His two-year rushing total of 2,800 yards was the most by any Cougar back this side of Rueben Mayes and Steve Broussard.

    Fourth in a series of feature stories (15 for 15) CF.C is running in the 15 days leading to its 15th anniversary on August 15.

    Harrison's size (5-9, 200) was unexceptional and his speed, while excellent, wasn't jaw dropping.

    What he had in droves -- great eyes and a knack for geometry.

    "He had really good vision," his head coach, Bill Doba, told CF.C in a recent interview. "He could get behind linemen and find holes. He could see the seams."

    Doba is succinct when asked how good Harrison was for the Cougs.

    "Jerome was great," he says. "He had a big influence. He took the heat off the offense."

    And that's an understatement.

    "In Cougar history, you have had some extraordinary talent in the backfield with people like Keith Lincoln, Bernard Jackson, Rueben Mayes and Steve Broussard, but if you're looking at just one season, The Ghost is in a class all his own," says Cougfan.com co-founder John Witter. "The guy was seemingly unstoppable -- a treat to watch."


    HARRISON PLAYED SIX SEASONS IN THE NFL, 4 1/2 WITH THE CLEVELAND BROWNS (Getty).

    Alas, eight years after the fact, he has proven as elusive to pin down for an interview as he was to tackle on the field.

    Harrison did not return several messages left by CF.C for this story. But this past November, in a touching Thanksgiving Day story produced by CBS Sports' NFL Today, he and his wife Michelle provided the entire nation a glimpse into their lives – lives which were forever changed in 2011 when Jerome underwent surgery for a brain tumor.

    "It was a basic physical," Harrison told CBS of the day the tumor was discovered. "They tell you to cough, turn your head, touch your toes, all that good stuff. The [doctor] looked at my eyes. He said, ‘Whoa.' He showed me the papers, and he said, ‘You see the white thing?' ‘Yeah.' ‘That's not supposed to be there' ... He was amazed I was still walking and talking."

    Harrison was undergoing the physical that day because he had just been traded from the Detroit Lions to the Philadelphia Eagles. The physical was a routine part of the process. Or so it was supposed to be.

    The tumor, while benign, rested on his brain stem and was "engulfed in veins," thus complicating the surgery, his wife Michelle told CBS. The day after the surgery in 2011, Harrison suffered a blood clot in his brain and had a stroke.

    "From that point, every hour, it was touch and go," she said. "He was declared a quadriplegic. He had paralyzed vocal chords. He was ‘trached' and had a feeding tube."

    "At that time, I did (want to die)," Jerome said in a Nov. 26 interview with Detroit's MLive Media. He became angry and pushed people, including Michelle, away.

    But they both fought through it.

    Harrison, now 30, turned tenacious in his rehab, learning to feed himself, regaining his speech and learning to walk again, though somewhat delicately.

    He was in the hospital for three straight months, but even that was a feat. Doctors had forecast he would be in for 10 months.

    "I was surrounded by love and happiness," Harrison said of his remarkable recovery. "They (his mom, wife and two kids) helped me get back to my feet. I'm very thankful to be alive and to have a beautiful family."


    IN TWO CAREER GAMES AGAINST THE HUSKIES, HARRISON RUSHED FOR MORE THAN 350 YARDS AND COLLECTED TWO VICTORIES. HERE HE SCORES AT HUSKY STADIUM IN 2005, HIS LAST GAME IN CRIMSON.

    OVERCOMING THE ODDS LIKE THAT is a Harrison habit. Despite a head-turning prep career in Kalamazoo, Mich., he was lightly recruited and wound up at perennially hapless Eastern Michigan. Academic issues then rerouted him to Pasadena City College, where he broke Jackie Robinson's records and became the first player ever to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons.

    Numbers that might spur a recruiting frenzy, yes? Hardly.

    WSU recruited him following the graduation losses of running backs Jonathan Smith and Jermaine Green from the 2003 Holiday Bowl team, but they initially liked the diminutive Harrison as more of a change-of-pace back. Six-foot-3, 220-pound junior-college transfer Chris Bruhn, who averaged 4.5 yards per carry in limited time in '03, was expected to be the Cougars' main man in the one-man backfield in 2004.

    And that is how it carried out for a while. Bruhn, though, never showed the explosiveness that was expected and Harrison began to emerge. In the fifth game of that 2004 season, a wild 41-38 loss to Oregon, Harrison carried the ball just 14 carries but piled up 117 yards and a touchdown.

    A month later, WSU found itself fighting to maintain another double-digit lead during the second half. But unlike against the Ducks, Harrison kept taking more and more handoffs from quarterback Alex Brink.

    He wound up carrying the ball a school-record 42 times for 247 yards and three touchdowns as the Cougars notched a 31-29 upset at UCLA. His tally broke Broussard's WSU record of 41 carries in 1989 against Oregon. It also was the most rushing yards by a WSU player since Mayes had 357 in 1984 at Oregon.

    After Harrison racked up 150 hashes in a 28-25 win against Washington, Harrison's rushing total for the year stood at 900 yards -- despite only starting five games.


    NAMED FIRST-TEAM ALL-AMERICAN BY AP, ESPN, CNNsi and THE SPORTING NEWS, AMONG OTHERS.

    But get this. Even when the 2005 spring prospectus was released, Harrison was not listed among the Cougars' four honors candidates.

    The Ghost, so nicknamed for his elusiveness against would-be tacklers, however, would not be denied. He even told reporters his goal was to rush for 1,800 yards in 2005.

    Any doubts about his ability to perform at an elite level ended in the season opener against Idaho. On the first play from scrimmage, Harrison sprinted around the right side 80 yards for a touchdown. Less than a minute later he was back in the end zone on a 4-yard run.

    Those were among several Harrison highlight reel runs that season. A porous defense that year helped limit the Cougars to a 4-7 record that included five setbacks that went down to the final snap of the game.

    Still, the national plaudits rained down on Harrison.

    BUT TO NFL SCOUTS, HE WAS TOO SMALL. Instead of focusing on his vision and cutting ability, they lamented his 5-9 frame and good but not blazing speed. In the 2006 NFL draft he fell to the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round. He was largely relegated to the bench, rushing for 450 yards over his first three seasons with them.

    The Ghost had become a forgotten man.

    Then in 2009 he was back in the headlines. He broke legendary Jim Brown's single-game rushing record for the Browns, with 286 yards and three touchdowns at Kansas City. It was the third-most rushing yards in a game in NFL history. As a part-time starter, Harrison finished that season with a career-high 862 yards and five touchdowns on 194 carries.

    But instead of making Harrison the Browns' feature back in 2010, head coach Eric Mangini turned to Broncos' castoff Peyton Hillis in 2010. Harrison was traded midway through the season to Philadelphia for running back Mike Bell and then signed with Detroit in 2011.

    He then was traded back to Philadelphia for running back Ronnie Brown and a 2013 seventh-round pick — a move that wound up saving his life thanks to the subsequent physical exam with the Eagles.

    "I'm very okay (with not playing football again)," Harrison told Mlive last fall. "But can I? I'm stubborn."

    Spoken like a man who knows how to overcome expectations.

    SHOWN HERE IN 2004 AT UCLA, HARRISON, THEN A JUNIOR, SERVED NOTICE OF THE GREATNESS THAT WAS TO COME AS HE TORCHED THE BRUINS FOR 247 YARDS AND 3 TOUCHDOWNS.

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