September 2, 2012
Eskimos' J.C. Sherritt 'The Thumper II'?
By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency
CALGARY - The Thumper took a guess.
“Maybe 150,” offered Wayne Harris.
The question was ‘What’s the real record for tackles in a single season in the CFL?’
The official record is 127 by Calvin Tiggle in 1994 and the story of the season in the CFL is Edmonton’s J.C. Sherritt having 70 only eight games into the season.
But ask anybody who played back in the day of Wayne ‘The Thumper’ Harris, before the CFL started tracking the stat, and they’ll tell you.
“Whatever the record is I’m pretty sure Wayne Harris would own it,” said legendary Edmonton Eskimos coach Hugh Campbell, of Dan Kepley and GM of Willie Pless, and former player during the years The Thumper played middle linebacker for the Calgary Stampeders.
Long-time Stampeder football fans are going to get a live look at the young man who may be Thumper II — against league leading rusher Jon Cornish — on Labour Day to make their own comparisons.
The Thumper himself has taken note of J.C. Sherritt’s 70 tackles in his first eight games in his second season in the league with the Edmonton Eskimos.
But Harris, who has his likeness on the Canada Post 100th anniversary Calgary Stampeders stamp, suffers from dementia. So we’ll leave it to others to guess what his tackle numbers might have been in his 12-year career.
Wayne Harris Jr., a former CFLer himself, admits he’s already had the Thumper II thought cross his mind.
“Reading about what Sherritt is doing, the first thing I thought about was dad,” he said Saturday prior to working as an assistant with the U of Calgary Dinosaurs.
“At one point I tried to see if I could come up with numbers for dad’s tackles total, but I just couldn’t.
“I do know dad had 168 tackles in eight games at the University of Arkansas in his senior year. That’s 21 tackles a game as an average. We have the stat sheet he was presented with at the end of his career.
“The thing that makes me think of dad when you talk about young Sherritt is that he’s a small, quick player. Dad was 186 pounds when he came into the league. I think he finished at 205.
“When I became a coach, I looked at the old films. I saw how quick he was sideline to sideline. Sherritt sounds like he’s like that, too,” said Harris Jr..
Sherritt’s defensive co-ordinator Mark Nelson, who played as a Stampeder with Harris Jr. and recruited Wayne’s other son Cooper Harris to play for him at a junior college in Independence, Kansas, sees the comparison with The Thumper, too.
Mark is the son of Eskimos Hall of Famer Roger Nelson.
“I remember one morning in the kitchen, dad came down for breakfast with a big gash over his eye. He said ‘I was dreaming it was third and goal and I’ve got to get Harris. I exploded out of bed and ended up in the closet.’
“My dad said Harris was the quickest and smartest he ever played against. If there’s a comparison, it’s that they both find the ball. J.C. sees a lot. I don’t coach him a lot. There are certain players you have to make sure you don’t over-coach.”
Harris’ former Stampeder teammates are paying attention with Sherritt on the scene.
“I think Wayne would be right at about 150 tackles. Maybe a bit more. I figure about 10 a game. And we played 16 games back then,” said 14-year veteran Larry Robinson.
“I’m pretty sure Wayne consistently had eight, 10 and 12 tackles a game. He’d go sideline to sideline. I’d come up from safety to hit a guy and Wayne would hit me and the guy. He’d hit both of us!”
Robinson has been watching Sherritt and believing he is seeing something that, if it isn’t a short-term illusion and the kid stays healthy, could well be the second coming of The Thumper.
“Or Dan Kepley,” he said.
“That Sherritt kid does fly around, that’s for sure. I see similarities. Wayne only weighed about 185 pounds at the start of his career. He finished his career a bit over 200. And he was five-foot-11,” said Robinson.
Sherritt is five-foot-nine and 218.
“You want to be careful comparing anybody to a guy who was a Western Conference all-star 11 times, an All-Canadian eight times and won four Schenley Awards as the top defensive player in the league,” he said.
Robinson has a great Thumper story that dates back to his rookie year in 1961.
“For some reason that I can’t explain to this day, they had me playing corner linebacker in our first exhibition game. It was against Edmonton. The Eskimos handed Johnny Bright the ball coming my way and I thought I was going to die. Wayne came out of nowhere and wiped him out.”
Ask legendary Stampeders receiver Herman “Ham Hands” Harrison about how many tackles Harris might have had and he said “A lot. I’m pretty sure that about eight of every 10 tackles made by the Stampeders back then would have been made by Wayne. He was unbelievable.”
Harrison said he believes The Thumper “was the best 200-pound linebacker in the history of the world.
“I’d put Wayne Harris, Willie Pless, Alondra Johnson and Dan Kepley as the best who ever played in this league.”
Hugh Campbell has a similar list and says from what he’s seen watching Sherritt, he has the ability to make that list.
“If he shows the same durability of Harris and Pless, I can see him ending up right at the top,” said Campbell of the players who put in 12 and 14 seasons as compared to nine and a half by Dan Kepley.
Campbell says he’d rank Harris, Kepley and Pless as the top three linebackers ever to play in the league.
“I was once asked at a dinner by Wes Montgomery to name the best linebacker I’d ever seen and I said Kepley. Afterward I found out Wayne Harris was in the crowd. I always felt bad about that.
“Wayne Harris was so special. Absolutely I’d guess Wayne had the most tackles. I don’t think Dan Kepley ever hit 100 tackles in a season. Calgary was set up so it was almost Wayne’s job to make every play. And he did!
“In Saskatchewan we’d use a pulling guard and sent George Reed up the middle. Wayne obliterated George. The pulling guard didn’t make Harris pull out of there. We called the play the ’31 sucker but Wayne never suckered. Helmets were flying. We had to stop using that play for the sake of George’s well being.
“Those three guys were a little different in athletic build. We used Pless on short yardage as a running back.”
Campbell said it’s obviously early to compare Harris with Sherritt who needs two tackles Monday to pass, in a half a season, the 72 he had as a rookie last year.
“But I do see some comparisons at this early stage,” said Campbell.
“I remember, when I was coaching Kepley early in his career, asking him what he saw on a certain play. Ask most players and they’ll tell you just the one thing. But Kepley saw almost everything.
“I’ve watched all those guys play and I’ve been watching Sherritt closely. He is outstanding at recognition of the play and recognition as the play changes. He sees it all. And he gets it real quick. He’s headed there before anybody else. And this guy intercepts. He’s everywhere. And he knows where he’s going.
“I don’t think Ed Hervey is getting enough credit,” he said of the Eskimos head scout. “I watched Sherrit a lot in college at Eastern Washington and I didn’t think he was big enough.”
Sherritt says he’s ashamed to admit he’d never heard of Wayne Harris.
“But I know who Hugh Campbell is. And Dan Kepley and Willie Pless are guys I want to be like. They set the standard for me every day I see their names and pictures on the dressing room wall.
“I’m not into the tackling totals too much. You look at people like the ones that you mention and it’s about championships. I’m hoping to have the kind of career where people might say I helped lead a team to championships.”
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