Packers’ DuJuan Harris: Small RB fulfilling big dreams
By Wes Hodkiewicz, Green Bay Press-Gazette
~In the neighborhood where DuJuan Harris grew up, the only football field readily available was a nearby street with grass sandwiching each side of the road.
The rules were simple — two-hand touch on the pavement and tackle once you ran off the road.
The Green Bay Packers’ first-year running back (5-foot-8, 203 pounds) never has been the biggest player on the field. It didn’t matter if it was in an NFL locker room or in his local pick-up games as a kid growing up in Brooksville, Fla., near Tampa.
So Harris learned fast. If he was going to survive, it would be in his best interest to stay the course and use his speed and quickness to evade any patty-cake tackles coming his way.
It was the same way he approached life.
One of nine siblings, growing up in Brooksville wasn’t always a cakewalk for Harris. He watched as a number of people close to him were unable to fulfill their dreams.
Yet, Harris never took his sights off his. Even within his family, Harris wasn’t the biggest, strongest or the fastest compared to his older brothers, but he had his goals.
There was a time when the Brooksville area produced professional athletes on a perennial basis. During Harris’ lifetime, the most notable alumnus was former Philadelphia Eagles’ first-round pick Jerome Brown, a two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle who died at age 27 following a car accident in 1992.
In recent years, however, that trend had slowed.
“Growing up they didn’t think somebody could make it out of there,” Harris said. “A lot of people didn’t have their eyes set on that, but I always told myself I was going to get the hell out of there and do something.”
Harris’ career as a running back didn’t explode like his idol, Barry Sanders, but it got him a college education — he’s one class short of his degree in criminal justice — during a career at Troy in which he rushed for 2,636 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Harris went undrafted in 2011 before signing with Jacksonville, where he was on the practice squad for 11 games before being promoted to the active roster the last five games.
After the Jaguars cut him during this year’s training camp, Harris was claimed by Pittsburgh for the last preseason game before being released and ultimately landing on the Packers’ practice squad on Oct. 24 after a handful of workouts with other NFL teams.
Harris instantly made an impression.
“A little shocked just because of his size, because usually we’re a bigger-back team,” said Packers running backs coach Alex Van Pelt. “(I) watched him on the first day of practice, his foot speed and quickness and ability to jump cut and get in and out of cuts and stop on a dime was immediate, ‘This guy’s got a little something to him, he’s got a little wiggle and some burst.’”
In an effort to set the tone against Detroit on Sunday, Harris lowered his shoulder into the Lions’ Ricardo Silva on the first play from scrimmage to finish an 11-yard carry. He wound up with a career-high 31 yards in seven carries in what was a solid day on the ground for the Packers.
This week, Harris sat down with Press-Gazette Media to talk about his journey to the NFL, his aspirations to be an every-down back and life on and off the field.
■ Twitter handle @Ol_sLy_Foxx.
■ Earned his nickname, “Foxx,” because he was born with red hair.
■ His favorite movie is “Gladiator,” but loves watching anything on Blu-Ray.
■ Along with rushing for 42 yards on nine carries last year with the Jaguars, Harris also had 14 kickoff returns for 308 yards (22.0-yard average).
■ Doesn’t listen to anything in particular before a game, but listens to a lot of Florida-based music in general. “A lot of people who guys here have never even heard of, but with music some artists tend to — some of their best music is before they got famous because then they start turning into just wanting to make money. No one is really serious about it,” Harris said.
■ Harris has five brothers and three sisters.
■ In Sunday’s 27-20 win over Detroit, Harris was on the field for seven offensive plays and carried the ball each time.
■ Before getting called to work out for the Packers, Harris worked as a contractor and car salesman in the Jacksonville area for short periods of time while he waited for workouts.
By the numbers
3rd — all-time leading rusher in Troy history.
4.48 — 40-yard dash time, according to Pro Football Weekly
13 — Was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster in Week 13 of both of his NFL seasons.
Did you know?
Harris once rushed for 363 yards and four touchdowns during a game at Brooksville Central High School despite playing for only three quarters and 2 minutes of the fourth before his coach took him out with the game in hand. It still ranks as the Hernando County record. “I wanted more, but I didn’t want to get greedy,” Harris said.
How did your family and friends react to your performance last Sunday?
“They were pretty happy for me after the game. They were going crazy. The whole county pretty much. When I go back home, even when I came back from college, a lot of kids felt like I did it and they can do it also. That’s the biggest thing to me. I gave them some hope. I gave some kids some hope.”
On his mindset going into his first carry last Sunday:
“Set the tone. We were down by seven, so they gave me the shot to get out there first. The only thing I thought about was setting the tone. We have to get the team into it somehow.”
Were you nervous at all getting the start?
“No, you just have to tell yourself to relax. It’s just like you practice. Just relax, know what you have to do, read your reads and pretty much run the way you run. … They kept calling my number and I’m here to help the team the best way I can. Whenever the line had a perfect block, I just hit the holes that they made.”
Was it a gratifying feeling after selling cars for a week?
“It felt good. It felt really great. It had been awhile since I had been out on the field and I had an opportunity to get back out there. I did the car salesman thing and it was kind of tough finding a job like that because some people knew I had been in the NFL, so they think like, ‘The pay is not going to be like what you are used to,’ so it was still kind of tough, but it’s something I did. First, to learn something new plus I couldn’t stand just sitting around — I couldn’t stand it. I just wanted to stay active, do something and have some kind of cash flow coming in.”
Do you feel NFL teams overlooked you because of your size?
“Possibly, but there are a lot of short backs in the league. A lot of short backs who have proved they can play. That we exist out there and can make plays like tall guys can. The short thing, I don’t think it was too big of an issue.”
Could you be an every-down back in the NFL?
“It’s possible. I feel like it’s possible. I feel like I could do it, but it starts with being comfortable and doing everything I need to do and then execute. It’s possible. I’m going to keeping work towards it. The more you can get some every-down backs on a team, the better. You can have this guy be that back, that guy can be that back and have two or three guys back there. It makes us that much better.”
Why did you choose Troy over Florida A&M?
“I pretty much only had two offers coming out of high school and that was FAMU and Troy. I originally committed to FAMU and the next week I had a call from Coach Tony Franklin, at the time he was an offensive coordinator, and he called and told me they wanted me to come there for a visit. When I got to Troy, I committed because I knew that’s where I needed to be at.”
Who is DuJuan Harris?
“I’m a down-to-earth, laid-back guy. I’ll listen to some music here and there. A lot of DVDs, I go DVD shopping here and there. … Other than that, I just like to relax and whenever I have time to be with family, I like to see if they want to have a little cookout or something. I just like to be around family. I’m a really laid-back guy.”
What would you like to do after football?
“Work with juveniles — kids who are moving down the wrong path. I feel like kids listen to someone who’s been there, done that. I feel like kids listen to them more and feel more comfortable, too. I’d definitely like to work with kids, change their life and get them moving in the right direction. Use my major. There are other things, too. That’s why I did the car dealership thing. I did a little bit of contracting when I wasn’t playing. I was just doing different things I never did just to learn. I just feel it’s good to learn things.”
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