Each fall, brothers Drew and Price Harrell attend football games at their alma mater, Arkansas State University. When they walk into the stadium, the two often look up at the school’s ring of honor and always take note of the first person inducted, their father Calvin Harrell. Calvin died when Drew was 8 and Price was 6.
Calvin Harrell has been nominated for the College Football Hall of Fame. Drew told Talk Business & Politics it’s a bittersweet moment for him, his mother and his four brothers. It’s been more than 24 years since his father passed away at the age of 44, and Drew often wonders what his life would have been like if his dad had lived. Induction would be the capstone of his father’s legendary college career, he said.
“It was really tough at times,” Drew said, choking back tears. “I don’t think people realize the impact of a small thing like asking their dad for advice. … It’s tough when you don’t have that coach at home.”
Calvin Harrell is one of 100 players to appear on this year’s divisional ballot. Out of the 5.26 million people who have played college football, just 997 players have earned induction into the College Football Hall of Fame — roughly less than 0.0002%. College football has been played for 149 years.
Nicknamed “Wildman,” Harrell played running back at his high school in Memphis. A top recruit, his sons aren’t sure why he chose ASU, but proximity to home was likely a factor. When he arrived, a golden age of ASU football began. The two-time first team All-American helped lead the team to the 1970 NCAA College Division national championship, according to ASU.
The team went 11-0 on its path to the national title. That same year, Harrell rushed for 1,131 yards and 12 touchdowns. The next year he rushed for 961 yards and four touchdowns. Harrell was a key cog in the team winning multiple Southland Conference championships from 1968-70 as the team posted an 11-0-1 league record during that span. Each of those teams also played in the Pecan Bowl, winning the game in 1969 and 1970, according to the school.
He ended his collegiate career with 660 rushing attempts for 2,935 yards and 26 touchdowns, all of which still are top 10 marks in school history. He still holds the record for career 100-yard rushing games with 18, while his rushing attempts rank fourth, rushing touchdowns sixth and rushing yards seventh.
He was inducted into the ASU Hall of Honor in 1994, and two years later in 1996 became ASU’s football’s first Ring of Honor inductee. He was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.
When his college career ended, Harrell prepared for the NFL draft, Drew said. The then-Houston Oilers told him he would be their first-round draft pick, but a knee injury during the Senior Bowl game caused him to drop to the Miami Dolphins in the fifth round.
Harrell opted to play five seasons in the Canadian Football League with the Edmonton Eskimos. He helped lead the Eskimos to the 1974 Grey Cup game and completed his professional career with 1,419 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on 346 carries. He also caught 116 passes for 1,203 yards and seven touchdowns in 45 games.
LIFE AFTER FOOTBALL
When his football career ended, family life began for Harrell. He married his college sweetheart, Genie, and the two started a family. He had five boys, Tres, Jay, Patrick, Drew and Price. Harrell worked as a football coach, police officer, insurance salesman and in other jobs. He spent many hours with his sons in the front yard teaching them how to play sports, Drew said. Price had few memories of his father because of his age, but he did remember watching movies with him, he said.
“It wasn’t uncommon for him to go out into the yard and race one of our brother’s friends barefoot. Even though he was older, he would always beat them,” Drew said.
A practical joker, Harrell would dress up on Halloween and “scare” his boys’ friends and classmates, Drew said. A little shy, Drew had to be prodded to talk to girls when he was little, he said. Once, his father gave him some money and told him to go and buy some candy for a friend’s daughter.
“I normally would be afraid to do something like that, but if he told me to, I would,” he said.
Tragedy struck the Harrell family on June 26, 1994. Harrell liked to go to dance bars with his wife and friends, and was an avid dancer, Drew said. That night they got shocking news — their beloved father died from a heart attack at the age of 44.
“It was really tough,” Drew said.
It’s rare for a fan to be able to walk into a stadium and see his father’s name memorialized. What makes it special for Price and Drew is that their dad earned it, Drew said. If he gets inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, it will be a recognition he would have relished, his son added.
“It would be the ultimate honor for my dad,” Drew said.