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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: BOWL WEEK : Kevin Harmon Also Has Led Iowa to a Bowl, but He is Different

December 29, 1987|CURT HOLBREICH | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Stepping off the jumbo jet and into the glare of another sunny day in Southern California, Kevin Harmon looked as conservatively dressed as the rest of the Iowa football team.

He appeared to be just another of the proper Hawkeyes who arrived last week for the Holiday Bowl against Wyoming.

But beneath Harmon's basic black Hawkeye blazer beat the heart of a transplanted New Yorker with an appreciation of urban style.

Later, a beige leather jump suit and white loafers worn on sockless feet was the uniform of the day.

"This is my New York look," Harmon said, sounding off with both civic and personal pride. "This is the way we like to dress back home."

Back home is Laurelton, a predominantly black middle-class section in Queens. Kevin is the youngest of five brothers in a football-playing family, although his older brothers, Greg, 26, and Gary, 25, never graduated much beyond the neighborhood games.

Derrick, 24, played three seasons as a running back with the San Francisco 49ers. His closest brother, Ronnie, 23, has just completed his second season as a running back with Buffalo Bills. But he may be best remembered in these parts for his four-fumble performance in a 45-28 Iowa loss to UCLA in the 1986 Rose Bowl.

"I still kid him about that," said Kevin, who is known for his 48-yard kickoff return that set up the winning 41-yard field goal in last year's Holiday Bowl against San Diego State. "It's hard to let him forget."

But in many other ways, this has not been a season to remember for the Harmons.

Derrick retired from the 49ers before the season and is working as an engineer in the Bay Area.

Ronnie, first-round draft choice of Buffalo in 1986, has been embroiled in legal difficulties stemming from his former involvement with sports agents Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom and his acceptance of money, airline tickets and a car from them while he was at Iowa.

And although Kevin leads the 9-3 Hawkeyes with 139 carries for 668 yards and 6 touchdowns, and is tied for third in receiving with 29 catches for 248 yards and a touchdown, he has done so despite an ankle injury that has caused him to miss much of the last seven games.

His ankle remains sore, but he said he expects to start Wednesday against Wyoming (10-2) in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. He will end his college career with an appearance in the Japan Bowl next month.

That finish may not be all he had hoped, but it is brighter than the possibility he faced early in November. Harmon was in danger of losing his remaining eligibility after it was reported that he had received $350 and airline tickets from Walters and Bloom two seasons ago during their dealings with his brother.

Harmon retained his eligibility, however, after an investigation by Iowa officials, whose findings were reported to the Big Ten and National Collegiate Athletic Assn. The consensus was that Harmon was not aware of the source of the funds.

"Nothing happened," Harmon said. "I really wasn't concerned. Ronnie was involved. I wasn't involved.

"I learned a lesson (about dealing with agents). But everybody has got to do what they want to do. I guess that's what Ronnie wanted to do. That's not what I would do, but that was what he did."

It was Ronnie, however, who led him to Iowa. Ronnie's decision to go there made plausible to Kevin the idea of spending his college years deep in the heartland. And when Ronnie left for the Bills, Kevin stepped in at tailback, earning the starting job this season.

It has been a reasonably successful finish for a player who went to Iowa as an option quarterback, redshirted his first season and did not convert to running back until midway through the next season.

Even so, when Harmon announced his decision to follow his brother to Iowa, he had some explaining to do to his big-city buddies.

New Yorkers, even those who grow up in Queens, consider themselves a bit more sophisticated than most of mankind. To them, the world ends where New Jersey begins.

"They said, 'Iowa? Isn't that where they grow potatoes?' " Harmon recalled, smiling.

No, it's where they grow corn, soybeans, beef and pork.

It's where they also play a pretty fair brand of football.

Harmon didn't understand that himself, at first, but despite some early misgivings, he has found a second home in Iowa City, one that offers him a change of pace from the hectic existence in which he grew up.

"The people in Iowa are honest," Harmon said. "You can appreciate that coming from New York, where no one trusts anybody. But in Iowa everybody trusts everybody and that's a nice feeling, knowing you are trusted."

Those simple values have impressed Harmon, but he remains a New Yorker. He bemoans the lack of late-night life in Iowa City--"Everything closes by 1:30"--and the absence of New York-style pizza. "I just laugh when I hear that," said Kevin's father, Jesse. "You send a kid from New York anywhere, and he'll tell you there's nothing to do."

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