Ever since his announcement as a Heisman Trophy finalist on Monday, one memory keeps returning to Marvin Harrison Jr.’s mind.
The first year his father, Marvin Harrison Sr., was named a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist in 2014, Harrison Jr. traveled with him to New York to find out if he’d be enshrined that year, the same place Harrison will be as one of four candidates up for college football’s most prestigious award on Saturday.
“I remember being in a hotel room with him at the time, we got to explore the city a little bit just waiting for his name to be called to be elected into the Hall of Fame,” Harrison said. “Unfortunately he didn’t get in that year, but that’s something I’ll definitely always remember about New York and it’s crazy however many years later now that I’ll be going to New York myself as a Heisman finalist.”
That’s why his moment on the stage in Lincoln Center will be one that brings much of his life’s journey, to this point, full circle.
“Nowhere near being a Hall of Famer, but it’s how the years have gone by and what I’ve been able to accomplish,” Harrison said. “If you’d have told that kid as his dad was waiting to be in the Hall of Fame at that time that, ‘One day, you’re going to go to New York yourself and be a Heisman finalist,’ it would have been very surreal. So definitely a special, special place for me.”
Harrison Sr. was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016, two years after that trip to New York with Harrison Jr.
As with any Heisman finalist, Harrison earned his invitation to the ceremony through elite play on the gridiron.
He’s hauled in 67 receptions for 1,211 yards and 14 touchdowns with an additional rushing score this season. It’s the fifth-most receiving yards in a season in Ohio State history, with Harrison’s 1,263 yards in 2022 being fourth, and he’s the first-ever receiver to record back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons for the Buckeyes.
Harrison’s 31 career receiving touchdowns are third in program history while his 2,613 career receiving yards rank sixth. He’s the only Buckeye ever to record three three-touchdown games and he has the most 100-yard games (15) in school history as well, recording eight of those in 2023.
“It’s definitely a blessing, especially as a receiver, to be in conversation for the Heisman,” Harrison said. “I couldn’t do it without my teammates and coaches allowing me to be in a position to succeed on Saturdays. So I’m glad I get to be a representative of Ohio State for the award.”
Coming off Ohio State’s loss to Michigan, it’s likely that one of the other Heisman finalists – LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels, Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and Oregon quarterback Bo Nix – ultimately win the award. Daniels is considered the massive favorite with -1400 odds on BetMGM after a season with more than 3,800 passing yards and 1,100 rushing yards for the Tigers.
What’s more likely for Harrison to win is the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the best pass catcher in college football. He was named a finalist for that trophy on Nov. 28 alongside LSU wide receiver Malik Nabers and Washington wideout Rome Odunze, and he hopes to become the second Buckeye to win the award, joining Terry Glenn.
“It would mean a lot,” Harrison said of potentially taking the Biletnikoff. “I always said I wanted to win it for Zone 6, Wide Receiver U, always having conversations about us and other schools with like LSU, like Alabama. To add a Biletnikoff Award winner to the long list of great receivers we’ve had at Ohio State, that’s what would mean the most to me.”
Harrison showed the potential of a future Heisman candidate from the earliest days of his Ohio State career.
In his first-ever spring game as a freshman, Harrison caught seven passes for 49 yards and a touchdown. He appeared in all 13 games for the Buckeyes in 2021, then enjoyed a breakout Rose Bowl game with three touchdowns against Utah after Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson both opted out of the contest in preparation for the 2022 NFL Draft.
“Coming in as a freshman those are dreams very, very far away,” Harrison said. “I never thought that I’d be in the position I am now. As you get closer to it, you start to realize what you’re accomplishing. But they were really just dreams at first.”
“If you’d have told that kid as his dad was waiting to be in the Hall of Fame at that time that, ‘One day, you’re going to go to New York yourself and be a Heisman finalist,’ it would have been very surreal.”– Marvin Harrison Jr. on what it means to be a Heisman finalist
Two of his most memorable performances came in a pair of top-15 wins over Penn State in 2022 and 2023. Harrison had 10 receptions for a career-high 185 yards against the Nittany Lions last season before a career-high 11 receptions for 162 yards and a touchdown in what was arguably Ohio State’s biggest win this year over PSU.
Harrison fought admirably in his two starts against Michigan as well, both losses, picking up 120 yards and a touchdown in 2022 and 118 yards and a touchdown in 2023. He followed up the 2022 outing with a 106-yard, two-touchdown evening against Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinals before being knocked out of the game with a concussion with less than a minute to play in the third quarter on a hit flagged for targeting that was controversially overturned by replay.
While he was best known for who his father was when he first came to Columbus, Harrison has forged his own legacy as one of the greatest receivers in Ohio State history.
“It definitely means a lot. It’s still something that I haven’t thought of recently,” Harrison said. “But like I keep mentioning, just the great legacy of Ohio State receivers – think all the way back to Cris Carter, some of the teammates I’ve had in the past, Chris (Olave) and Garrett (Wilson) and Jaxon (Smith-Njigba) – to even be in that conversation is an honor within itself. It’s something I’m super proud of, something I’ve worked very hard for and just never really thought that I’d actually get there.”
That’s what he’s looking forward to most about his trip to New York this weekend, the opportunity to look back on what he’s accomplished and come full circle with his father.
“Just taking it in with your family, actually being able to look back on all that you’ve accomplished – it’s not something that I do quite often,” Harrison said. “(I’m) always looking forward to, ‘What’s next? How do I get better?’ But I think this week will be an opportunity where I can just look back on everything and just be thankful of how far I’ve made it, be proud of yourself for all the work you’ve put in.”
The 2023 Heisman Trophy ceremony will take place at 8 p.m. Saturday and will be televised by ESPN.