Harris Embracing the Opportunity

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Dozens of NFL scouts attended NC State's Pro Day looking to evaluate Wolfpack players and other football standouts from local colleges.

The most intriguing prospect might have been former NC State basketball player Simon Harris.

Harris, played two seasons for the Wolfpack after starting his hoops career at Elon University, but he admits that he's always thought about playing football.

"I've actually always wanted to try it, but it just wasn't a plausible option," said Harris. "I really more or less wanted to stick with basketball. When the opportunity arose, someone has always placed the inkling in my ear about it... once I officially decided to roll with it I started to work out not too long ago. I showed up, and I've got this opportunity."

Local hoops fans are familiar with this type of move. Ex-Miami power forward Jimmy Graham is considered one of the top tight end prospects in the 2010 NFL Draft after having a solid senior season for the Hurricanes. Former Duke point guard Greg Paulus transferred to Syracuse and played quarterback in 2009. Paulus is now working out for pro teams in hopes of being drafted this spring.

"It was great."

When asked if Paulus gave him inspiration for making the move, Harris quickly stated otherwise.

"I never had a Dookie inspire me," he joked.

If Paulus or Graham haven't motivated Harris, maybe Antonio Gates has. A standout hoops player at Kent State, Gates hadn't played football since his senior year of high school when the San Diego Chargers signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2003. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder is now arguably the top tight end in the NFL, and he has inspired undersized basketball players across the country to give football a look.

Harris knows it won't be easy for him to make it on the pro level. He didn't even play football in high school, much less college.

"I haven't played since middle school," he said. "I played my eighth grade year, and when I entered into high school I worked out with the football team. My high school coaches would never let me play... unfortunately, I wish I had this opportunity."

Ironically, the first team to work out Harris was the San Diego Chargers. He recently held a workout with Charger scout Darrell Moody at UNC.

"It was great," Harris said of the session with Moody. "I worked out with Mr. Moody, and he's a great guy. He actually just ran us through the workout we just had. He was great. It was a great experience. It got my feet wet for what we did today.

"We actually went to UNC... they wanted to test on turf. We went out there in their new practice facility, it's actually gorgeous. I went out there and ran through the drills and things. I strained my hamstring while I was running a 40 so I'm trying to recover from that, but I made it through today."

Wednesday Harris was able to showcase his talents for nearly every team in the NFL. Checking in at 6'3.5 and 259 pounds, Harris benched 225 pounds 20 times, posted a 32-inch vertical jump, and unofficially ran in the 4.9 range in the 40-yard dash. That time wasn't the fastest he has posted, but Harris didn't expect to duplicate his best run.

"I ran a 4.75 probably two years ago... we were just messing around," he said. "I ran that when I was 235 my junior year of basketball, and now I'm 260. It's different."

Where he impressed the most was during drills. Harris looked fluid running routes and did a great job of plucking passes with his hands.

"The catching... I've always been able to catch," he stated. "That was pretty much what inspired me to do it to be honest."

Harris didn't play high school football, but his father, NC State men's basketball assistant coach Larry Harris, did. A star football and basketball player at Clearview High School in Lorain, Ohio, the elder Harris was a prep high school all-american in both sports.

Larry Harris was a star football and
basketball player for Clearview High School.

One of the top high school forwards nationally in the 1974 class, Harris signed a basketball scholarship with Pittsburgh University and graduated four years later as the school's all-time leading scorer. He led Clearview High to the school's only state hoops title as a senior when he averaged 29 points, 20 rebounds, seven blocks, and four steals a game.

However, word is he had big-time potential as a tight end and could have played football in college. He was all-state and a prep all-american as a senior, and Harris held a couple of state receiving records when he graduated. Simon has heard all about it.

"Big shadow," Simon joked. "My dad was an all-american in three sports in high school. That's big-time inspiration because I always had to hear the nonsense growing up. '200 yards was nothing for me...' you know how he is. That kind of got my gears grinding a little bit."

Harris is just looking for a chance. He'll continue working out for NFL teams to see where the opportunity will take him.

"The feedback has been positive," he said. "All these guys are really professional and really nice. They can't go out of their way and say too much to you about what you did on your times and everything, but the conversations have been great.

"You never know. I'm just really optimistic about it. I'll put it in the Lord's hands and see where he takes me from there. I've always been a person who... if you're afforded an opportunity you might as well as attempt it. Once this came up I tried to attack it full throttle. The worst thing they can say is No, and I've heard that millions of times in my life."


Larry Harris photo courtesy of Clearview High School.

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