While leading his team to the brink of its third straight City Championship, Niamey Harris has racked up nearly 3,000 total yards and 36 touchdowns for a squad that marched undefeated through league play.
Not bad for a guy playing out of position.
Harris is the senior quarterback for Mission High School and defending Player of the Year of the Academic Athletic Association — The City’s public schools league. This year, the dual-threat signalcaller has thrown for 1,925 yards and 24 touchdowns to go with 935 yards rushing and 12 scores. But if you ask him, he’d prefer to be lining up at a different spot.
“I’m a wide receiver,” said the 6-foot-2 Harris, who grew up in The City’s Hunters Point neighborhood. “That’s my real position.”
In many ways, Harris is only behind center by accident. He filled in for injured quarterback Frank Hall last season and never stepped away, directing the Bears to their second-straight title in the Turkey Bowl (the San Francisco Section championship game played annually on Thanksgiving.)
Today, the top-seeded Bears will continue their pursuit of a third-straight title with a semifinal playoff game against fourth-seeded Galileo High School. The winner will advance to the Turkey Bowl game at Kezar Stadium next Thursday.
As the best athlete on a talented, senior-laden Mission team, Harris resumed his quarterbacking duties for the 2016 season. Along with excelling at that position, Harris has lined up at wide receiver and running back on offense, and played linebacker, safety and cornerback on defense for the 7-4 Bears.
“His versatility is what truly sets him apart,” said Mission coach Greg Hill. “He can do whatever we ask of him.”
That wide range of experience has given him an uncanny understanding for all the positions on the field.
“The transition to quarterback was easy, because I knew all the routes from playing wide receiver,” said Harris. “And when I play defense, I know how a quarterback thinks, so I’m able to make reads easier.”
Although he’s leading the team again as a quarterback, Harris’ future likely lies in the position he truly covets. He’s being heavily recruited as a wide receiver by a number of college programs — including Cal, Colorado, San Jose State and Sacramento State.
His playing performance has been enough to get the attention of those schools, but his biggest strength may be his leadership qualities.
“He’s great at keeping his composure and getting the guys focused,” said Hill. “And he plays just as hard at practice as he does in games. He has no ‘off’ switch, and the guys see that and are inspired by it.”
Harris proved his leadership skills reach well beyond the gridiron when he led a team-wide effort to kneel during the national anthem as a protest against racial injustice. It’s an act that the Bears still practice.
“To make a gesture with that kind of magnitude says something about Niamey,” said Hill. “That took a lot of courage.”
For the present, Harris is concentrating on the football field and his team’s chances to accomplish something truly exceptional. Mission High School has never won three-straight Turkey Bowls.
“We talk about that all the time,” said Harris. “We want to make history.”
For the first time since 2010, none of the three San Francisco teams from the West Coast Athletic League qualified for the postseason.
Competing in the always-rugged WCAL—long considered one of the best athletic leagues in California—Sacred Heart Cathedral, Saint Ignatius and Archbishop Riordan struggled through a difficult 2016 campaign, with The City schools combining for just three conference wins.
Of the three squads, Saint Ignatius proved to be the most competitive, as the Wildcats compiled a 4-6 record that included a couple of notable non-conference wins.
Riordan, coming off an impressive 2015 season that included a trip to the CCS Division III finals, struggled all year with a young squad.
Sacred Heart Cathedral’s sole conference win came at the expense of Riordan. As a result of their tough schedule, The City’s teams have historically been able to qualify for the Central Coast Section Division III Playoffs, even at times with losing records.
That was not the case in 2016.
Following the first round of the postseason, San Mateo County boasts several teams still competing for titles in the Central Coast Section playoffs, although most of the squads in contention are playing at the Division V level.
Menlo-Atherton, a heavyweight from the Peninsula Athletic League-Bay division, is the top-seeded squad in the Division I section, and will square off against traditional powerhouse Bellarmine Prep in a semifinal game on Friday afternoon.
Junipero Serra of San Mateo, which started the season 0-4, will face West Catholic Athletic League rival St. Francis in the semifinals of the CCS Division II playoffs on Friday night.
In Division V, San Mateo County schools will make up three of the four teams playing in the semis. The Menlo School, from the PAL-Ocean league, will match up against Seaside High School, and in the other semifinal game, Half Moon Bay will face Sacred Heart Prep. Sacred Heart Prep, which has won four straight CCS titles in various divisions, qualified for the playoffs despite posting a 2-8 record during the regular season.
The CCS playoffs are the primary postseason competition for teams from seven different leagues throughout the region.