Craig Harrison’s friend, mentor and fellow junior quarterback at Utah State University suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter against BYU on Oct. 4.
The major loss of Chuckie Keeton for Aggie Nation thrust Harrison, a former Grantsville High School quarterback, into the game. He then started the next game against powerful Mountain West Conference foe Boise State last Saturday.
Suddenly, USU football’s spotlight shined brightly on the walk-on quarterback from Grantsville who started his career at USU as the fifth quarterback on the depth chart.
“As a kid you dream about playing college football, and there are a lot of emotions running out on the field through the tunnel before the (Boise) game,” said Harrison.
“Actually, it was never really super stressful because of all the preparation you go through in practices,” he added. “Even when I went in the week before in the BYU game, it wasn’t nerve-racking because of the mental preparation.”
In reality the 24-year-old player has been preparing for this opportunity for several years as the son of a former high school coach, Rick Harrison, and grandson of another former and well-known football coach, Larry Harrison.
“My dad and grandpa have certainly helped me through the years to hone my skills,” said Harrison. “Honestly, it has been an honor to play behind Chuckie Keeton. He has helped me and worked with me since I arrived at Utah State. Chuckie will be a friend forever.”
Saturday was somewhat of a historical highlight for Grantsville and Tooele County. Harrison, apparently, is the first player from Tooele County to start at quarterback for a major college football team.
Utah State was 3-2 before the BYU game. Harrison played three quarters against BYU, and slightly more than one half against Boise State. The Cougars and Broncos arguably will be the two strongest opponents to visit Romney Stadium this season.
Utah State lost 31-14 to BYU and 34-23 to Boise State.
Aggie head coach Matt Wells said quarterback play was good at times and not so good at times in both games. Against Boise, he said the defense played well on first and second downs, but could not get the ball back to the offense with all the third-down conversions by the Broncos.
Freshman quarterback Darrell Garretson replaced Harrison early in the third quarter. Utah State announced Monday that Garretson will start at New Mexico on Saturday. Harrison is still in the mix to start games at quarterback.
“Both quarterbacks did some good things,” said Wells after the Boise game. “We’ll continue to coach them.”
Harrison completed 7-of-17 passes for 105 yards against the Broncos with a long pass of 40 yards. Garretson completed 8-or-14 passes with two interceptions and a long pass of 39 yards.
Wells was high on the play of Garretson in the final minutes of the Boise game. “I thought he gained composure and played well down the stretch,” he said.
The coach said Harrison is still a positive influence for the team. “He’s very positive. He’s really a good teammate. He understands the situation, and is ready to go in if and when he has to be called upon.” the coach said.
Four quarterbacks are on scholarship at USU—Harrison is not one of them.
He is the son of Rick and Mary Ann Harrison of Grantsville. His father played quarterback at Southern Utah and Utah, while his grandfather, Larry Harrison, played at BYU.
After a gray shirt fall semester at Snow College on a football scholarship. Harrison served an LDS mission to Tulsa, OK. He then red-shirted at Snow for a year and shared time as the quarterback his freshman year until he got a concussion. He missed three games and came back to lead Snow to a victory in the Top of the Mountains Bowl title in 2011.
At Snow, he threw for 2,181 yards and 19 touchdowns and was 155-of-288 (.538) in passing.
Harrison split time at quarterback his junior year at Grantsville with Ryan Willis, and started his senior year. He completed 70 percent of his passes as a Cowboy for 1,105 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“Players are talented in junior college, they just aren’t as experienced or as developed as they are at the major college level,” Harrison said. “It’s like it is in high school — kids come in as freshman and grow up through the four years.”
Utah State defensive line coach Frank Maile had a cousin at Snow College, Beni Tonga, who told Maile about Harrison.
“Utah State was looking for a backup walk-on quarterback and I jumped at the chance,” said Harrison.
The former Grantsville quarterback was prepared for his big debut against BYU and Utah State. Last year, Harrison played in seven games and completed eight-of-nine passes for 63 yards. This year he has played in all the games except the 17-14 loss at USC.
Coaches at USU have liked the poise and consistency of Harrison. The roster describes Harrison as a big quarterback with a big arm who has a strong understanding of the system.
Keeton will back for the Aggies next season. But the quarterback situation at USU is still a bit unsettled. Harrison still could play a major role.