Makel Harris, Georgia High School Football Hall of Fame Inductee

Published 12:48 pm Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Written by Todd Holcomb

Georgia High School Football Daily



This is an interview with Mackel Harris, who was recently inducted into the Georgia High School Football Hall of Fame. Harris was a first-team all-state linebacker on Americus’ undefeated Class 2A championship teams of 1974 and 1975. The 1975 team holds the GHSA record for most shutouts in a season with 13 in 14 games. Harris went on to play at Georgia Tech, where he was a four-year starter. Harris spent a brief time in the NFL with the Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys before beginning a career at Life University School of Chiropractic Medicine. He is currently the school’s director of recruitment/multicultural affairs.

  1. Why was the 1975 Americus defense so good, and what made Mackel Harris so good? “We weren’t small, now. Both of those tackles [Rick Tyson and Albert Cooper] weighed about 270 pounds. The middle guard [Alvin Stewart] weighed 285. They were big, but they could run too, and they were mean and nasty. The two big outside guys [defensive ends Lynwood Volley and Lee Otis Burton] both went to D-I schools. We had great linebackers [himself and Willie Wooden] who could run to the ball. We believed in keeping everybody from scoring and then scoring as many as we could on defense. [As for himself] I was a hard-hitting guy. I filled holes. I covered all over the field and dropped back in pass coverage. I never felt like there was a play that I couldn’t stop because of my speed. Not many linebackers could run like that. My best time in the 100 [yards] was 9.2 when I ran against McTear [former 60 meters world-record holder Houston McTear] and all them. That’s pretty fast in those days as a linebacker.” [Harris’ football teammate Volley played with him at Georgia Tech. Burton played at Tennessee until forced to retire because of a medical issue. At the 1976 Class 2A track-and-field meet, Harris won the 100-yard dash in 9.6 seconds and the 200-yard dash in 21.9 seconds with the fastest times in any classification.]
  2. What was the most memorable moment for you as a high school player? “I had a couple. Football is different now than when I played. Every tackle was like having a concussion. Back then, they could put a crack-back block on you. I’ll never forget one year playing in Rome [for the 1974 Class 2A championship against West Rome], I woke up on the sideline. Coach Perry told me they took out both his linebackers with a crack-back block. I popped a cap and went back in the game. You’d never do that now. That’s one thing I’ll always remember. [Americus won 6-3 at Rome’s Barron Stadium.] Another incident I remember was when we were playing Swainsboro in the playoffs [also in 1974], and I had been in the hospital. They thought I had appendicitis, but it was food poisoning. I got out on Friday morning. That night, I scored on a 70-yard pass. Then Frank Ellis [an all-state Swainsboro player] broke down the sideline, and I caught him on the 20-yard line, and we kept them from scoring. I might’ve had 17-18 tackles that night.” [GHSF Daily newspaper research reveals that Ellis in fact ran 73 yards from his 9 to the Americus 18, where Harris downed him. Swainsboro failed to score, and Americus won 14-7.]
  3. How is the game different today? “The game is so different. When we played back then, it was playing sandlot football with pads on and rules. They tell you when you hit somebody, use your helmet right in the chest and drive it. Now you don’t use your helmet. That was some rough football. Now they protect the players a lot better, and that’s good. They need to protect them. But it was more violent. You have guys like Earl Campbell that played then and they can’t hardly walk know. They’re all beat up. Today you have to do some kind of exercises and take care of your body to keep going.”
  4. How do you feel about the Hall of Fame honor? “I feel great. It makes me think, wow, this day has come, and I am still alive to see it. It’s a blessing, thank God. It’s a blessing for me to go in with some of my Georgia Tech guys, Eddie Lee Ivery and Lucius Sanford. They played with me. And my coach, Pepper Rodgers. We’ve also got some other Tech guys, Ken Swilling and Pat Swilling. I can’t ask for a better group to go in the Hall of Fame with. [Rodgers will enter the Hall of Fame posthumously as he passed away in 2020. Harris said of his old ball coach, “He had a great personality. We called him Hollywood because he used to coach at UCLA. He was one of those coaches you loved to play for because he was not doing a lot of crazy hollering like some do. He treated you like you were a man.”]