Throwback Thursday Podcast: Harrison Hill

The voice of the Kansas Jayhawks, Brian Hanni, will periodically catch-up with former Kansas student-athletes and staff members as part of his Throwback Thursday podcast. Take a stroll down memory lane with Hanni as he’s joined this week by former Kansas wide receiver Harrison Hill. 

Brian Hanni (BH): Catch us up to speed on life after football for you and then we’ll talk about your career.

Harrison Hill (HH): So I left KU right around 2003 and finished my undergrad and graduate degree there and then moved to Kansas City. And since then, now it’s been like 13 years, I’ve been with Morgan Stanley. I’m a financial adviser here, I work on the plaza and I’ve been doing that with the same firm ever since, so life is good. I love Kansas City and I try to stay active with KU and make it to games as often as I can but things are going well.

BH: All you successful business men, last week we talked to Mike Rivera who is in commercial real estate in Kansas City and here you are giving investment advice. We’ll ask you why you’re investing in KU football later, but let’s get back to your career up front here. I mentioned you left as the No. 3 receptions leader and now six guys have flown by you. When you were watching Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe and these guys catch over a hundred balls in a season, did you ever feel like maybe you were born ten years too soon?

HH: Absolutely. I was very jealous, because you watch those games and you got (Todd) Reesing back there throwing the ball like crazy all over the field in four receiver sets. You know the offense is fast, it’s up pace and so it was enjoyable to watch, but of course there was a little bit of me that thought, holy cow this would have been fun to play, this offense would have been fun to play in. Because when I was playing, if you caught three or four passes in a game that was a big deal. And now these guys were catching six to 10 a game, so yes I wish I probably would have played a few years later than what I did, but it was so fun to watch and yes now I’m way down on the list and I expect to continue to go down because that offense is continuing to be popular in today’s college environment.

BH: You’re still top ten. You’ll always be top ten in my book. Let’s talk about favorite memories in your career. I thought this would be a fun week to talk to you because I’ll never forget the UAB win you guys had in triple overtime by a couple of points, 39-37. Ironically, the team we play this week just lost in triple overtime by a couple of points and maybe think this game on Saturday could be every bit as close. Take us back to Birmingham, Alabama and some big plays you made and pulling one out of the fire in the non-con that was a true shootout.

HH: That was a big game for us. That was 1998 and so I was a freshman. I was a medical redshirt freshman. I had broken my ankle the year before so I got a redshirt freshman year. And we were down in Birmingham, Alabama playing at the historic Legion Field and UAB was a pretty talented team. They didn’t end up having a great record that year but they were talented. Dylen Smith was our quarterback. I remember one of my favorite plays, there were seven seconds left in the second quarter before half and they had to punt the ball and I returned the punt back for a touchdown to go in at halftime. I remember I was so tired and in the end zone – this is hilarious – all my teammates came to celebrate and jump on me. I was so tired I actually vomited in the end zone on one of the guys. Not memorable for him but I went in at halftime, got rested up, caught a touchdown pass in the third overtime for us to win it and we just had a blast. It was a great trip back, it was a big win for us. It was a good experience as a freshman to have.

BH: You remember Steamin’ Willy Beaman from Any Given Sunday? You were him, the Kansas football version.

HH: I was him! I think that was the first time in college it was an 81-yard punt and I guess I wasn’t in good enough shape as a freshman. It was only the second quarter and I think it may have been Henri Childs, if folks remember him. He came to jump on me and everyone was like what are you doing man, what is wrong with this freshman. That was my first long touchdown at KU and it ended pretty hilariously. But it was a great win for us and great win for the team. I definitely enjoyed it.

BH: You never know what you’re going to get into on these Throwback Thursday podcasts. Any other great memories of the non-puking variety?

HH: It was an interesting time at KU football. It was right after (Coach Glen) Mason and right before (Coach Mark) Mangino so we struggled a bit. We would always get somewhere between three, four, five wins a year. We never made it to a bowl but we had some talent and we had some good games. I remember going to Norman the year Oklahoma won the National Championship. We took it down to the wire with them and I had a couple hundred yards or 150 yards receiving and just had a really big day. Those are the games I remember. Going to big time environments like Norman, like Lincoln, like College Station and just going out there and competing with my brothers and having big games and fighting. To me, that was the most fun thing there was. It was going and playing big-time teams in big-time environments. So the success didn’t always translate in the win-loss column like we wanted it to but the experiences were great.

BH: You’re a Wichita guy but you’ve obviously lived in Kansas City now for over a decade and know how heated the KU-Mizzou rivalry was as a player and what it’s always been. I would love to hear from you, from a player’s perspective, what it was like to be in the locker room when Don Fambrough would come in and talk to you guys the week of the Missouri game.

HH: It was special. And it’s interesting because growing up in Wichita, the rivalry was a little more KU-K-State down in Wichita. And when I went to KU I realized how much of a battle this Border War was. And Don Fambrough was the guy who helped us realize that, for us guys who came in and didn’t understand the history. I just remember he would either come in the night before at the hotel or the day of the game in the locker room and give us this speech. And I’m telling you, if you weren’t moved by Don Fambrough, there was something wrong with you. And it was always fun for me because I was a guy who I always had to relax myself before the game. I was always so pumped up and so excited and he would just send me through the roof. That’s why probably my best memory at KU was when we beat Missouri in ’99 in Lawrence. And I think it was 21-6. I had a big game. And I remember my first touchdown of the game I’m jogging back on the sideline and then I see John Hadl, Don Fambrough and Gale Sayers all standing there clapping and giving me high fives. And just to be able to put a smile on those guys faces and helping our team win, probably goes down as one of my best memories at KU.

BH: That’s big time. I love hearing that. We’re recording this conversation in your office in Morgan Stanley today and you’ve got the Memorial Stadium picture on one wall and KU football helmet on the other. What’s it like as a successful KU football graduate working in Kansas City, where I’m sure you cross paths with successful Wildcats and Tigers and all that. Are you kind of known as the KU investment guy and what’s that like sticking your chest out proudly? Not just about your football days but about your alma mater as a whole?

HH: It’s fun and definitely because you do run in to folks with different backgrounds like the K-State and Mizzou folks. I really feel like in Kansas City, I feel like it’s a KU town. There’s a lot of KU people here and it’s been great for me both professionally and personally, because personally I’m close to my alma mater where I can keep involved and go back and watch games, and from a business perspective there’s a lot of KU grads who want to do business with other KU grads. And they remember me from college so you know when I was starting off in the career, my business, I think it got me in the door a little bit better than I would have if I didn’t have that name recognition. Now obviously you got to earn it and show people you’re good at what you do once you get in the door, but its been good for me. I have a lot of KU clients, I’d say more than half, maybe even 75 percent have some KU affiliation so I’ve definitely tried to work that and my network has helped with that.

BH: Good for you buddy. Folks forget that while you played for Terry Allen for the bulk of your career you actually got granted a sixth year and then ultimately some dehydration complications forced you to retire after that following year had finally been granted. But you were around for Mark Mangino for a bit. Compare and contrast what those two were like and how has that transitioned for guys that have spent half of the career as Terry Allen guys and half their career with Mangino.

HH: It was a transition. It was a big transition especially for someone like me or the older guys, who you know I spent five years under the Terry Allen regime. I understood how it worked and I knew the process we had in place and then my last year to have a new coach, an entire new staff, an entire new system come in, which was going to be my last year. It was an adjustment because I was the captain on the team, I was a senior, I was looked to as a senior, but I was learning things for the first time. So it was definitely an adjustment. I think one of the biggest differences I noticed from day one in conditioning practice No. 1 at 5 a.m. in the morning in Anschutz, was just Mangino just demanded excellence from everyone in every way. If you weren’t going 100 percent every single second under Mangino, you were going to hear about it. I think that was the biggest difference I noticed day one. And I knew when Mangino came in, once that first conditioning session was over, I think all of us knew there was no way this team wasn’t going to be successful. We were going to get better under Mangino. Not that people didn’t demand excellence before Mangino, he was just a little bit more intense about it. And so I think he got the most out of his players, which I think is a great thing for a coach.

BH: Coach Beaty said something interesting the other day – that there were seeds planted instilling toughness across the program that you’re still reaping the benefits of all these years later. Now obviously Kansas football post-Mark Mangino for a few years in there had some lean years, but he said it was such an engrained mantra and mindset of toughness that there is still that feel walking around that complex today and that’s something he is trying to bring back. Would you agree with that?

HH: Absolutely. And I think that’s you know you speak about tradition and tradition to me doesn’t always mean win-losses and how many bowl games you’ve been to. It means what’s your program about. How do you act, what’s the culture like at your school whether its high school, college, the NFL? When Mangino came in he put in a culture of we are going to get after people and we’re going to work 100 percent and we’re going to get after somebody. They may be bigger, stronger, faster. They may have more five-star recruits than we do, but nobody is going to work like we work. Nobody is going to get after you like we do. And a lot of coaches say that, but at the end of the day they don’t demand it. And Mangino was a perfectionist, and so he demanded it and that starts to be a tradition, that starts to be a culture. Even though we didn’t have much success in the win-loss column, I think you start to see that culture develop. And then when you get someone like Beaty that comes in, who knows how to continue that, and then cultivate it by getting some better recruits, that’s how you lay the ground work for success in the win-loss column.

BH: You’re a highly successful investment guy here in Kansas City. Why would you invest in Kansas football with David Beaty as top of the program?

HH: I think if you look at KU football now, Beaty is building a program the right way. And what I love about it most is I love his Texas connections, I love his fire, I love his passion, I love his age, I love that he’s a younger guy who’s out to prove something. He hasn’t made it somewhere else as a successful head coach. He’s out to prove that he can build a program the right way. I love what we’re doing, trying to dominate Kansas and working on our walk-on program. I love the offense he has. It’s exciting, recruits like it. He’s going to make the most of the players we have, and right now currently we may not have the talent that you know OU has, but we’re going to get the ball to our best players. We’re going to create mismatches and were going to make it exciting. I just think he’s doing it the right way. I’m a big believer in Beaty and I’m a big believer in the way he works and the way he cares about his players, which you can tell if you watched his past press conference after the game last week. He cares about these guys. And at the end of the day, players want to go somewhere where the coach cares about you and wants you to be successful and I think that’s what David Beaty is all about.