FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Before his glory days in Fayetteville — Leotis Harris was a standout offensive lineman for Hall High School in Little Rock — where he was no stranger to racial tension.
“I came up when Jim Crow was very active,” Harris said.
Harris recalls one time his team went down to Louisiana to play a school that hadn’t lost in more than a decade.
“We beat ’em, and that crowd went crazy,” he said. “They started throwing beers at us, and hollering, and I had never seen anything like that. If you get beers and stuff thrown at you, they’re going to say a lot of things, you know. You get a lot of racial slurs thrown at you.”
Harris was recruited by legendary coach Frank Broyles to come up to Fayetteville and play college ball for the University of Arkansas. Harris says the recruiting class before him was the first for the Razorbacks with a significant number of black players — and that was weaponized by other schools that recruited Harris out of high school.
“A lot of other coaches from other schools used to talk about that Coach Broyles wouldn’t have a black player on his team,” Harris said.
But Harris found differently when he got to campus.
“He was a fair guy,” he said. “Some people said some things about him, about the black-white thing, but he was just a great man.”
Harris always had a hunger for greatness — and once in Fayetteville, he knew that in order to take the path he wanted — he had to blaze it himself.
“I had a roommate, Jimmy Walker,” Harris said. “We used to talk about who would be the first black All-American. He always would tell me, ‘I’m going to be the first All-American.’ And I said, ‘No, I’m going to be the first All-American.'”
Harris anchored the Hogs’ offensive line during his first three seasons, but before his senior year — Coach Broyles stepped down… and in came Lou Holtz.
“Coach Holtz is some kind of person,” Harris said. “He’s a very fair guy, and he tells you just like it is.”
Harris credits Holtz for helping him take his game to the next level — literally. After his senior season in 1977, he won that bet with his roommate and was named the first black All-American football player for the University of Arkansas.
Harris was drafted by the Green Bay Packers the following spring. He played six seasons with the Packers, coming just two games short of a super bowl appearance in 1982.
Now, long after his playing days, Harris lives in Little Rock — where he’s still an advocate for Razorback football.
“I tell any other guy, recruit that’s from this area — that’s where you need to go if you have an opportunity.”