Illini Legends, Lists & Lore: Sept. 9, 2018

Illini Legends, Lists & Lore: Sept. 9, 2018

Illinois running back Harry Jefferson played in the shadows of J.C. Caroline, Abe Woodson, Mickey Bates, Bobby Mitchell and Ray Nitschke, but despite that competition put together a fine career as a member of coach Ray Eliot's team from 1954-55.

The native of White Plains, N.Y., was Illinois' leading rusher in 1955 for a team that beat third-ranked Michigan and went 5-3-1. Jefferson ran for 514 yards in an injury-shortened season, 10 more yards than Mitchell, who would go on to become a Pro Football Hall of Famer.

That earned Jefferson second-team All-Big Ten and honorable mention All-America laurels.

Illinois' 5-10, 180-pound dynamo ranked third among Illini players in individual rushing as both a sophomore in '54 (198 yards) and a senior in '56 (320 yards), and career-wise, Jefferson had 1,032 yards rushing and 239 yards receiving. He averaged 5.5 yards every time he touched the ball, excluding an 89-yard punt return against Syracuse in 1954.

Three times during his career, Jefferson rushed for more than 100 yards, including 131 against Washington in '56, 127 versus California in '55, and 123 yards against Minnesota in '55.

Upon receiving his degree from Illinois in 1957, Jefferson played football for the Quantico Marines as a Second Lieutenant and was named to the All-Sea Service team. He then played briefly for the NFL's New York Giants, but an injury ended his athletic career.

Jefferson then joined the White Plains High School faculty, earning a master's degree from Columbia University while coaching the high school varsity football and basketball teams. He eventually became a WPHS administrator, rising to assistant principal.

Jefferson retired in 1996, concluding a 37-year career in education. A year later, he was inducted into the White Plains Hall of Fame. Shortly after that, the high school's gymnasium was named the Harry Jefferson Gymnasium.

Jefferson and his wife, Gertha, have two children and seven grandchildren. Today, he celebrates his 84th birthday.

Illini Birthdays:

Today: Jim Grabowski, football (74)

Monday: Peter Tomaras, fencing (84)

Tuesday: Mike Price, basketball (70)

Wednesday: Willie Williams, track & field (87)

Thursday: Joe Muti, football (50)

Friday: Pat McInerny, baseball (24)

Saturday: Tony Yates, basketball coach (81)

By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter@B1GLLL. His website is