Cinderella Story

As a sixth round pick out of Louisiana-Monroe, Chris Harris hoped to just make the team out of training camp. Heading into the season finale, the rookie safety has become a vital part of league's top defense.

"We felt very positive about him and that's why we picked him," said defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. "The young man has really developed and I think he's ahead of schedule, which is great for us because with him we have a good football player on the field."

Harris is expected to make his 13th start of the season on Sunday. He missed two games with an MCL sprain, but came back in strong fashion against the Packers, with two interceptions including one on the last play of the game.

"How did I do that," Harris said" I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It was a great feeling. I'd been so frustrated being on the sidelines. I couldn't wait to get back in the game. That I got a big play and stopped a last minute Green Bay drive made it all the better."

Harris has been one of the many pleasant surprises for the Bears. Heading into the season finale, he has 69 tackles to go with 5 special team stops.

"Great year, rookie, we liked him a lot coming in," said coach Lovie Smith. "He's making progress, big plays this past week. Not only with the interceptions but he's a big hitter, a solid tackler, can't ask much more from a rookie. He's got a great future ahead of him."

Harris saw 180 players go ahead of him in the 2005 draft. A native of Little Rock, Ark. Harris had enjoyed a standout career as a four-year starter and a three time All-Sun Belt Conference selection while at Louisiana-Monroe. While he hoped to get the opportunity to start sometime during his rookie year, it came after in just his second game as a pro.

"If I'd stood back a year ago and thought about what I'd be doing today, I don't think I ever would have said that I'd be a starter on a playoff team," Harris said. "Who could have imagined that? I'm so excited I can hardly put it into words."

But Harris isn't letting his emotions take precedence over concentration on the job at hand.

"To have made it this far this quickly is to me a further challenge," Harris said. "I have something to prove as an individual just as the Bears have something to prove as a team. Few people picked us to do this well this season. Few people thought I'd be a starter. Well, look at what happened. We're in a great position now. It's not a time to let down. Instead it's a chance to work that much harder and play this thing out."

Harris is well aware of the importance of strong play from the secondary as the Bears progress through the playoffs. To insure his own contribution, he's going back to the basics.

"I think a lot of us are doing that right now. We're perfecting our techniques so we can be playing at the highest level during the upcoming weeks," Harris said. "I'm working on my agility, my cutbacks and my speed. This is such a great opportunity. Sure there is pressure, but it's a good kind of pressure. Our friends are going to be watching us on national television. Everybody wants to do well, myself included."

One thing that Harris has noticed is the increased need for stamina down the stretch. With the inclusion of preseason contests and postseason play, the NFL season is much more grueling than what he experienced during in college.

"I didn't believe it when I looked at my calendar," Harris said. "We're way over the number of games I ever played in one year in college. It's almost twice as many. I'm taking every chance I can just to rest and relax. That's what I've learned from the veterans. Anytime you can be on a couch, just do that."

But Harris also feels that the extended experience he is enjoying this year should put him in a good spot both mentally and physically for next season.

"I think as a rookie, the more you can learn the better," Harris said. "You don't know anything when you first come in. I have learned this year about injury, about losing, about winning and about making the playoffs. What a great opportunity this has been. I think 'Ill come back next season ready to make a real impact."

The six-foot, 205-pounder now understands the importance of pushing when necessary and taking breaks whenever possible.

"The most important lesson has been about pacing," he said. "Don't leave it all out on the field too early because these games are intense and the season is long."

But Harris definitely feels he has enough energy left to go through the playoffs.

"Hey, I could be dead tired and I'd get up for that," Harris said. "This is so exciting the adrenaline alone will carry me through. I'm rehabbed and strong right now. I felt no problem at all when I was playing last weekend. My leg is 100 percent. I'm ready for the Vikings and whoever will come after that."


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