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Hammond grad Randy Harrison left his mark on ND football

2013-01-06T17:30:00Z 2013-01-14T19:37:04Z Hammond grad Randy Harrison left his mark on ND footballAl Hamnik al.hamnik@nwi.com, (219) 933-4154 nwitimes.com
January 06, 2013 5:30 pm  • 

Forget about "Rudy."

Locally, "Randy" was a much better story about Notre Dame football, its exceptional talent, the coaching legacies of Ara Parseghian and Dan Devine, and its national prominence from 1974 to 1978.

Hammond High grad Randy Harrison was a five-year starter at free safety for the Irish, who went 47-12 during that stretch and were national champs in '77.

Harrison, wife Cheryl and their three young daughters — all of them softball phenoms — will be watching tonight's BCS title game between his No. 1 Irish and No. 2 Alabama at their home in Henderson, Nev., and neighbors better have earplugs.

"I like our chances," Harrison said.

It could get emotional as the Irish shoot for a 12th national title and their first since 1988.

"My junior year, I broke an arm and missed the rest of the year and that's where I got my medical redshirt from," Harrison said. "The funny thing is, it was the third game of the year against Purdue and the last play of the first half.

"Had I gotten hurt in the second half, I would've been too 'deep' into the season to qualify for a medical redshirt. To my knowledge, I think I'm the only one who's ever been a five-year starter (at ND)."

Big-name players Harrison shared a roster spot with included Joe Montana, Jerome Heavens, Vagas Ferguson, Bob Golic, Jim Browner, Luther Bradley, Ross Browner, Al Hunter, Mike Carney, Steve Niehaus and Tom Clements.

Charlie Weis, who coached at Notre from 2005 to 2009, was a freshman classmate of Harrison's.

Teammates from the region included strong safety/outside linebacker John Dubenetzky (Hobart), defensive tackle Ken Dike (Merrillville) and defensive end Tom VanDenburgh (Merrillville).

"I was one of the fastest, if not the fastest guy on the squad," said Harrison, who also returned kickoffs and punts. "I had a great range in the secondary. I was 220 pounds in those days and could come up and make a nice hit on people."

Harrison still bleeds school colors.

"So many years later, having a degree from there no matter where you are in this country means a little something extra," he said.

"There's an old saying, especially when I was there: 'It's a bad place to be at, a great place to be from.' And that is really, really true. It's not your normal college experience."

Now retired but still working in the financial field, Harrison remains good friends with former Hammond Clark coach Gary Ridgely, who lives close by.

Both are in the Hammond Sports Hall of Fame.

"I coached Randy in summer baseball at Hammond Edison and he could've played anything. It didn't matter," Ridgely recalled.

"After he graduated, he wanted me to work out with him before he went to Notre Dame. I was 20 years old and he wanted a partner."

It was not a pretty sight.

"He ran a 4.4 and it was tough trying to keep up with the 5.0 I ran. It was a joke," Ridgely chuckled. "Randy was one of those guys who really went after it hard."

Harrison was never drafted. He had a tryout with Denver, then signed with Pittsburgh but suffered a dislocated vertebrae — which he still has -- in the preseason and was released.

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