When UTSA quarterback Frank Harris decided to return for his seventh season and a final year of eligibility in 2023, he planned to send out a tweet announcing his decision. San Antonio stood up and said no.
Instead, the forces of the nation's seventh-largest city coalesced to give Harris a press conference for the ages to announce his decision. A longtime former mayor, a state senator and a Bexar County judge were among the local dignitaries in attendance. The current mayor couldn't make it, but gave Harris a call to congratulate him on his decision to return to the Roadrunners.
"Honestly, I didn't think I had that much impact on people," Harris told CBS Sports. "Feeling the love and support from the city you grew up in, it's hard to explain, but it means a lot to me… It's just pretty cool because I don't see myself like that."
He might be the only one who doesn't. His resume stacks up against anyone's in the nation. Harris ranked in the top 10 nationally in total offense, passing offense and passing touchdowns last season. He led seven fourth-quarter comebacks over the past two seasons and joins Utah quarterback Cameron Rising as the only returning quarterback to lead his team to consecutive conference titles over the past two seasons.
"What value does that bring us as a city, as a university, especially as one that's only been playing football for 12 seasons going on 13? I don't even know if you can put a number on it," UTSA coach Jeff Traylor said. "But even more, just the belief he gives our locker room, our coaching staff – he touches a lot of people."
College football is full of larger than life characters who rise from the dust and capture imaginations, especially when they come from the local community. Hailing from Schertz, Texas, on the northeast side of San Antonio, Harris is a folk hero in the making at one of the youngest programs in college football.
Said local businessman Bob Wills, who started the 210 City Fans Collective and organized the press conference: "The one thing I've learned over the years here in San Antonio – people will support you when you win."
Harris' success story starts with humble beginnings. When Harris arrived at UTSA in 2017, the Roadrunners had played just five seasons of college football. The program's facilities were built out of former classrooms and the weight room was smaller than most high schools in football-hungry Texas. Still, that didn't dissuade Harris from turning down Power Five offers to stay close to home.
Despite its size, San Antonio doesn't get quite the same credit as its Texan neighbors in Dallas and Houston. It doesn't hold the cultural cache of Austin despite having nearly 500,000 more residents. For those from San Antonio, it's a family.
"He decided to commit here and stay home when it wasn't so popular to do so," UTSA safety Rashad Wisdom told CBS Sports. "It can be hard to be that trendsetter in a sense, but he went ahead and did it."
Harris had a vision of what he could accomplish at his hometown program, but things never quite went to plan. As a senior in high school at Schertz (Texas) Clemens outside of San Antonio, Harris tore his left ACL. The next year, as a UTSA freshman, he tore his right ACL. Then he had a shoulder issue. Before he knew it, three years had gone by and he had only thrown 91 career passes.
But after an inconsistent first season as a starter under the first-year Traylor, something clicked. Over the past two seasons, Harris has thrown for more than 7,000 yards and rushed for nearly 1,200 yards. Despite playing for six different offensive coordinators (many of whom earned Power Five gigs after coaching him), Harris is closing in on 12,000 total yards and 100 touchdowns in his career.
Perhaps his finest moment came last season with a berth to the Conference USA Championship Game on the line against rival North Texas. Trailing 27-24, the Roadrunners got the ball with just 98 seconds remaining. Harris ran for 22 yards to midfield, found tight end Oscar Cardenas (a fellow San Antonian) streaking down the middle of the field and then hit a 10-yard fade to tight end De'Corian Clark for a shocking game-winning touchdown.
Harris is a dual-threat quarterback in every meaning of the word. He has some of the quickest legs in college football, whether scrambling or maneuvering beyond the pocket. Passes from Harris seem to float, but almost always land softly into the right hands. Harris completed 67% of his passes over the past two seasons and threw 59 touchdowns to 15 interceptions.
"He's just a ballplayer," said Wisdom, who played at nearby Converse (Texas) Judson. "Like he's just been doing this ever since we were little. It's always been like that. I have the utmost confidence when [Harris] is out there on the field and leading the charge."
After the season, Harris weighed his options. A major knee infection required four offseason surgeries and called into question Harris's future in the NFL. Additionally, the Roadrunners are set to join the American Athletic Conference, which has produced New Year's Six bowl participants the last six seasons. The stars aligned to keep Harris home.
"As a competitor, you want to play against the best," Harris said. "At a higher level, there's more notoriety, better competition. I just think it's great for this program. To get where we want to go, this is the next step."
In recent years, Heisman Trophy attention has consolidated. In the College Football Playoff era, seven of the nine winners played in the playoff. The last time a non-power conference player won the Heisman was BYU's Ty Detmer in 1990, and he only won after setting the then-single season passing record with 5,188 yards.
But consider this: After dominating Conference USA to the tune of 23-5 and winning two conference titles over the past two seasons, the Roadrunners are transitioning up to the AAC. There, UTSA gets to compete against a bevy of nationally relevant programs, including Tulane -- which beat USC and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams in last season's Cotton Bowl. If UTSA thrives once again, a New Year's Six bowl is within reach.
"As much spotlight as he got last year, I feel like now there's a bigger one," Wisdom said. "That can be good and bad, but knowing Frank and just how he is as a player and a person, I feel like it can do nothing but benefit him. I mean he could potentially make a run for the Heisman."
Additionally, Harris ranks among the top five national returners in total offense. Three of the others – Washington's Michael Penix Jr., North Carolina's Drake Maye and Williams – are in the top 10 of the latest Heisman Trophy odds. Harris outdueled the other, Western Kentucky's Austin Reed,in Conference USA play last season. Outside of former Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, who had the benefit of one extra game, Harris was the only conference championship-winning quarterback to rank in the top 25 of total offense with 333.2 yards per game
Harris downplays his Heisman chances, saying his only focus is on the team and trying to compete for the program's first AAC championship.
"I mean, you could rank me the worst quarterback in America for all I care," Harris said. "I just want to go out there and win ballgames for my team. As long as my teammates believe in me and the coaches believe in me, I couldn't care less that anybody else believes."
But regardless, there's no question Harris deserves a spot in the Heisman hunt. To compete for the Heisman Trophy, it would take a perfect storm. The Roadrunners likely would need to win the AAC in their first season and take care of business against Houston and Army. A road tilt against Tennessee provides a vital showcase game. Harris's Roadrunners don't need to beat the Volunteers, but a solid performance would help.
At its core, the Heisman Trophy is a narrative award. Find a story better than Harris. He took the road less traveled, turning down bigger offers to build something right at home. Harris overcame multiple injuries and coaching changes only to come out stronger on the other side. He has emerged as a leader in his community and will leave UTSA with two degrees.
Ultimately, Harris's game has to speak for itself. Not every college football player gets a storybook ending, even with seven years of opportunities. But if the native son can replicate his success in a tougher conference, Harris deserves to be the first player from a Group of Five conference invited to New York since Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch in 2013.
"There's no doubt, it's really rallied our city," Traylor said. "It goes on and on with these San Antonio kids. They feel like they're overlooked and not recruited as much like some areas are. It's always a great story for us that we can put one of our own out there to lead our football team."