A generation ago, before college recruiting — especially college football recruiting — became a season unto itself, coaches could go about the business of wooing high school prospects without their every move being viewed under a microscope.
Indeed, the players of tomorrow surfaced on signing day.
Imagine, then, the response in the sports department to a call from a University of South Carolina coach.
“The best player in the state and one of the best in the country is going to announce” — commit in today’s language — “he will come to USC,” the coach said. “I’m telling you so you will give us a story with prominent display. You will be the only paper with the story.”
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Skepticism followed. The thing is, how often has a coach said that about a high school star? How often is the next recruit the best thing to come along since sliced bread?
Well, the sports department relaxed its standards a bit and provided more coverage than the normal recruiting story at the time, and for once a coach’s rhetoric did not miss the target. Joe Morrison got this one right.
Say hello to Harold Green, one of the so-called blue-chip prospects who did not disappoint.
‘One of the best.’ They called him the “Ladson Laser” at Goose Creek’s Stratford High, and the name fit. His statistics were dazzling — 2,203 yards rushing his senior season and 4,441 for his career; 30 touchdowns his final year, 16 on runs for 50 or more yards. His honors included Class 4A Back of the Year and Shrine Bowl MVP.
“One of those (long-range) touchdowns came against us,” Summerville legend John McKissick says. “They beat us by that touchdown. He’s one of the best we have played against.”
One look convinced Frank Sadler, the Gamecocks’ offensive coordinator at the time, that “the Laser” was a special player
“His coach (Ray Stackley) showed me a film, and I knew very quickly that I was watching a great athlete who could make a difference on our football team,” says Sadler, retired from coaching and living in Alabama. “I told Joe, ‘We have to get that guy.’”
One of the great athletes to come from Berkeley County, Green signed with the Gamecocks and made an immediate impression.
“He reminded me physically of an Eric Dickerson or a Marcus Allen — lean guys with a slashing running style,” former safety Brad Edwards says. “Harold was an amazing runner.”
“A soft-spoken warrior,” quarterback Todd Ellis says. “He was the ultimate teammate.”
The player his teammates saw in practice really introduced himself to Carolina fans on Oct. 4, 1986. In the fifth game of his freshman season, he said hello in the best of ways — with a three-touchdown masterpiece against third-ranked Nebraska.
A play to remember. In a trip down memory lane, Ellis says he first thinks about a pass he threw to Robert Brooks against Georgia. The second is Harold Green’s showing his stuff on a 7-yard scoring run against Nebraska as a freshman.
“Hot day at Williams-Brice Stadium,” Ellis says. “We took the ball down the field toward the South end zone, and we ran a toss sweep, which was rare in our run-and-shoot offense. Harold made three of the greatest cuts I have ever seen.
“I pitched the ball and watched, and he was absolutely unbelievable. He made the Nebraska defenders look silly. That was in the days fans said, ‘If (the upper deck) ain’t swaying, we ain’t playing,’ and the upper deck literally went crazy. I can’t think of Harold and not think of that play.”
Otis Morris, a teammate and future business partner of Green, recalls another touchdown in the Gamecocks’ heart-breaking loss to Nebraska.
“He took a short pass, jumped over one defender and made a long (scoring) run, probably 60 yards,” Morris says. “That play was something special. He dodged and jumped and he was gone. He was action in motion. He had it all.”
Plays such as those make Sadler call the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Green “as exciting a running back as I have seen. He had great hands and speed, and he had the ability to make people miss. The more he had the ball, the better he was. We knew he had great talent, and he did not disappoint.”
Settling in S.C.. Born in California into a military family, Green hop-scotched across the country until his dad retired from the Air Force and settled in the South Carolina Lowcountry. He made his mark in football at every level: peewee leagues, high school, college and the NFL.
Eighteen years after his final game, he ranks third among Carolina’s career rushers and shares the school record for career touchdowns. A second-round NFL draft pick, he played eight seasons in the pros and made one Pro Bowl squad.
But teammates who know him best say he maintained a steady outlook on both athletics and life.
“Well-mannered, great work ethic,” Morris says. “He didn’t talk a lot and still doesn’t. He doesn’t waste words.”
Edwards gives the same description in different words: “He is a quiet, humble guy with great work habits.”
Green represented the antithesis of some of his teammates, Ellis says.
“A team with Danny Smith, Todd Ellis and Sterling Sharpe, all outspoken, opinionated and talking in the huddle, Harold was so good about doing his job in an excellent manner, never complaining and never questioning,” Ellis says. “He was the ultimate teammate.”
He also represented the ultimate in players.
“Harold Green does things you just don’t coach,” Joe Morrison said after the player’s freshman season. “His potential is unlimited. He can run, catch, block and just gets better with every game.”
“You knew immediately he was highly talented,” Morris says. “You saw him in practice and expected him to do well, and he didn’t disappoint.”
No, he didn’t.