Chris Harris Jr. is Defending the Underdogs
By Vince Agnew, Player Engagement Insider
The Denver Broncos star cornerback Chris Harris Jr. faced a gauntlet of unfavorable circumstances while working to move from the catalog of the overlooked into a class of favorites. When the underdog climbed from the depths of probability into success, he became an advocate for the youth fighting to do the same.
Before he fought for the youth, he had to battle for his own future—one that time and time again appeared bleak on the journey to football relevancy.
Growing up, Harris Jr. invested his heart into the game of football but his passion was not enough to be offered a scholarship by a single university in his home state of Oklahoma, a recruiting hotbed. The only scholarship opportunity that he received was from the University of Kansas and even after four standout seasons with the Jayhawks, there was no invite to the NFL Combine. During the 2011 NFL Draft, 254 collegiate athletes received phone calls launching their professional football careers, but not Harris Jr.
After a summer filled with uncertainty, the league’s lockout was lifted and the free agent went on to sign with the Broncos. Against the odds, he would not only make the team, but was also named the Broncos Breakout Player of the Year. With no shortage of adversity along the way, Harris Jr. built a resume as one of the NFL’s premier lockdown corners and, in 2015, he helped to lead the league’s best defense to Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers.
Harris Jr. was never touted as a five-star athlete during his rise to prominence. He was considered undersized and underdeveloped in the eyes of many, but did not let other’s opinions cloud his focus to prove that he could find a way to rise to the top. Now the two-time Pro Bowl selection is determined to help other underestimated children recognize their worth.
Following his first season in the NFL, Harris, Jr. dedicated himself to investing in the youth. He and his wife, Leah, started the Chris Harris Jr. Foundation and have affected young lives from Texas to Oklahoma and various communities in Denver. The foundation has a goal of helping kids with unfavorable circumstances by giving them the tools to be far more than just productive athletes.
“We try to identify areas of children who are at-risk,” he said. “ We want people to invest in the kids and give them a boost or head start in life.”
They have partnered with organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Denver Children’s Home, and focus on education around bullying, life skills and even charting their activity, academics and nutrition. But with so much going on different communities, Harris, Jr. praises Leah, whom he says has done a great job with the vision and creativity to keep the foundation moving forward.
Through their foundation and partnerships, Harris Jr. hosts events and football camps, but their current project streams into his workplace on Sundays. The new initiative is called Defending the Underdogs, and it is based on the production of the Broncos’ top-tier defense. For each pass break up of the team, they are asking players and fans to make a donation to the Chris Harris Jr. Foundation, which will benefit the Salvation Army.
“The Salvation Army is where I grew up spending time playing basketball and football,” Harris Jr. said. “I’ve always seen them as one of my first homes and something that I always want to give back to. I always want to take care of those kids because I feel like they took care of me.”
With so many disadvantaged children in Denver and across the country, Harris, Jr. feels that his work is just beginning as he clings tight to the underdog role that motivated him to rise above obstacles. With the help of his wife and their foundation, they are offering children a chance to see their potential beyond the circumstances and envision themselves as champions.
“People are going to doubt you, tell you to quit on your dreams,” he said. “Whatever that you strive to be in life as long as you put 100 percent into it, you can conquer anything.”