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WELLSVILLE — Former Penn State and Pittsburgh Steelers great Franco Harris hasn't done much clay shooting in his life.

But, he still believes he's a natural at it.

In York County on Thursday as the special guest shooter for the ninth annual Penn State York clay shoot event at Central Penn Sporting Clays, Harris wasn't there to showcase his clay shooting skills. Picking off some clays would've been a bonus, but the day was about raising money and support for the athletics department at Penn State York. Last year, the event raised $15,000 for the school's athletics programs.

"I'm a big believer in the value of athletics and I like to promote athletic programs," Harris said. "So, to be here today to help raise funds to support and help Penn State York athletics, I'm big for that."

Since retiring from football after the 1984 season, the Pro Football Hall of Famer has been building his own business, what he calls his second love to football. He's created a bakery business called "Super Bakery" and a fitness wear business, Silversport, that has a line of antimicrobial fitness and workout gear.

That is how Harris has spent the last three decades of his life after football, but in York County and around the state, where Penn State and Steelers football run deep, he'll always be remembered for his time on the gridiron.

While with the Nittany Lions from 1969-72, Harris racked up 2,002 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns as a running back before getting drafted 13th overall in the 1972 NFL draft by Pittsburgh. He played with the Steelers for the first 12 seasons of his 13-year career, finishing his pro career with the Seattle Seahawks in 1984.

With Pittsburgh, Harris won four Super Bowls, but might be best known for the "Immaculate Reception," the game-winning catch he made in the 1972 AFC divisional playoff round against the Oakland Raiders. With the Steelers trailing 7-6 with 22 seconds left, Harris caught a deflected pass just before it hit the ground and took it in for the winning score.

PSU snubbed for CFP last year: While in York, Harris also spent time talking about the state of the PSU football team, which is coming off an 11-3 season, a Big Ten championship and thrilling last-second loss in the Rose Bowl to USC.

Despite the loss to the Trojans, Harris felt the Nittany Lions were snubbed by the College Football Playoff Committee and should've gotten in the playoff over Ohio State, a team PSU beat during the regular season.

"Last year, wow, did they bust out and it was way beyond any expectations that I was thinking of," Harris said. "...I do feel like we should've been one of the four teams in the playoffs. No doubt about it. No way should Ohio State have been in there. Penn State should've been in there all the way."

High praise for Barkley, McSorley: Two of the main offensive catalysts who helped the Nittany Lions exceed expectations last year were running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley.

Both are returning this year, making PSU a strong favorite to contend for the Big Ten title and the College Football Playoff. The duo has caught the attention of Harris.

Of course, Harris knows a thing or two about being a dominant running back. So based on his own experiences, and what he's seen out of the talented back, who will be a junior next fall, Harris believes Barkley is in for another big season.

"I want to watch him run every play," Harris said. "He is so exciting and so talented, but with that talent, he accomplishes things. He makes things happen and he's an inspiration to the team."

As for McSorley, Harris sees a guy who just goes out and tries to win ballgames. Harris knows a little bit about that, as well.

"This kid goes for the win," Harris said. "He goes for it and I love that spirit."

Maintains stance on Joe Pa: Over the past five years, since the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal broke, there hasn't been a more notable and outspoken supporter of former head coach Joe Paterno.

On a number of occasions, Harris has spoken to the media on behalf of his former coach, and Thursday was no different. He maintained his stance that Paterno and the school were being cast in a bad light for the actions of Sandusky.

"This was the Sandusky scandal and certain people turned it into the Joe Paterno scandal," he said. "Joe became the focus and the face of this whole scandal because of the actions of certain people. ... Now we know that there was no cover-up. No way. Look at someone's character. Why would someone say that Joe would protect Sandusky over the welfare of a child? We know better than that. Everybody knows better than that, and no way would Joe do anything like that."

Positive outlook for Steelers: Coming off a berth in the AFC Championship Game, Harris hopes the Steelers continue to take steps in the next direction.

He felt that, despite all the injuries the team suffered throughout the season, making it one game shy of the Super Bowl was promising for the organization. Pittsburgh lost the game, 36-17, to the eventual-champion New England Patriots.

With a strong offensive core in place, however, Harris sees more success in the upcoming season for the Steelers.

"I'm hoping that guys can stay healthy, stay clean and keep the offense in tact," he said. "And we know that this draft that there are a lot of good defensive quality people in it and I hope that we keep trying to improve our defense and get our pass rush going."

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com

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