Ben Harris – 2016 ALFCA Lifetime Achievement Award

March 11, 2016

    He was an assistant coach at Baldwin County High School when he took the head coaching job at Mattie T. Blount High School in Prichard in 1988.  The Leopards had won only 11 games in the 5 previous seasons. The first day of practice he had 6 players show up.  Blount had never won a playoff game. Everyone had told him not to take the job.  But Ben Harris did take the job, and by doing it his way, made Blount the most successful program in 5A football in the 1990’s.

    Ben Harris was a standout football and basketball player at Toulminville High School, even playing in the high school all star basketball game.  He had a record setting career as quarterback at Alabama State University from 1975 to 1978.  After serving as head coach at Clayton High School in 1982, he took an assistant coaching job at Baldwin County High School where he prepared himself for the day he would be a head coach.  That call came from Blount High School, which had lost more games in the previous 10 years than any other 5A team in the state.

    Coach Harris realized very quickly that if he was going to have any success, he need to improve the discipline, attitude and character of his players.  He improved their classroom conduct and their work ethic.  He drove a school bus through Prichard , picking up his players and taking them to church. As the character and conduct of his players improved, so did the Leopards’ win totals.  They beat Escambia County that first season for their first playoff win. By 1990, Ben Harris had  Blount poised to make a playoff run. After wins over Citronelle, Opp, Choctaw County and valley, the Leopards were in their first state championship game. On December 14, 1990 Blount welcomed Homewood to Prichard stadium before an over flow crowd. Damien Craig threw a TD pass to Sherman Williams to open the scoring in the first quarter.  Williams later broke a 55 yard run right before halftime and the Leopard defense scored  2 TDs in the second half to give the Blount their first state title with a 36-24 victory. Williams ended the season with a state record 3004 yards on 307 carries. Ben Harris was 5A coach of the year.

    The winning ways continued. Blount was state runner up in ’91, and in 1992, Damyene Craig led Blount to a school record 13 wins and its second state title. Ben’s teams won championships in 1996 and 1997 and finished runner up in 1995.  His Blount teams of the 1990’s were loaded with great players- Williams, Craig, Tony Hairston, Deandre Green, Demarco McNeil, Aaron James, Larry Casher and Robert Malone.

    In 10 seasons at Blount he won 100 games and lost only 30.  He served as coach of the Ala-Miss All Star game twice, working as head coach in 1991.  He left Blount after the 97 championship season to return to Alabama State as an assistant coach, but returned to the high school ranks in 2000 at Daleville. He came back to Blount in 2003 for his final six seasons as a head coach.

   “Ben was a father figure to many of my teammates, especially those who were growing up without a father, “ said Tony Hairston, a star linemen on some of Coach Harris great Blount teams. “He would take us to church, ride around the neighborhoods to make sure his players weren’t hanging out on the street corners. He taught us to treat other the way we wanted to be treated.” Ben Harris is a member of the Mobile Sports Hall of Fame and the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame. He was awarded the 1997 NFL High School Coach of the Year Award and was state coach of the year twice. In 2003 he was awarded the Lefty Anderson Service through Coaches Award.  Ben and his wife Gwendolyn have 3 daughters, April, Dierdre and Bianca.  Always humble, Coach Harris said after his retirement “I was blessed. I was trying to make a difference in kids lives, and the kids ended up making a difference in my life.”

    Today, January 30, 2016, the Alabama Football Coaches Association is proud to bestow its Lifetime Achievement Award upon Coach Ben Harris.