The sixth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers came to terms on a three-year contract with the team on Thursday. The following day, he was on a plane back headed back to the West Coast to, of all places, Pittsburg, Calif.
"It's been tough being away from my family this long," said Harris, who spent the better part of two months in Pittsburgh working out with the Steelers.
"It was definitely tough not seeing my little daughter. But this time has really helped me grow as a person. And to get my contract done is like a dream come true. That's what I have to keep reminding myself, I'm doing something 99 percent of America would love to be doing. I'm going to put my all into it."
Even if it is difficult being so far away from home for so long.
"It's all work right now," the 6-4, 298-pound defensive lineman said. "Even though I'm going home now until training camp, I'll still be working out twice a day every day and studying the playbook."
Harris knows that his opportunity to play in the NFL could be fleeting. Just in case there was any question about that, he and the rest of the Steelers' rookies got a first-hand look at it last week when the team released six players to trim its roster to 80.
"That was really a dose of reality," Harris admitted. "One day those guys were with the team, the next day is was like, ‘Oh my God.' We all pretty much lived together at the Allegheny Center and had spent so much time together. It really shows just how much of a business this is."
It's a business Harris has wanted to be a part of for quite some time.
A highly recruited prep star, Harris settled on the University of Oregon, where he had to bide his time behind a number of veteran players, including future NFL stars Haloti Ngata and Igor Olshansky. Now, he'll likely do the same with the Steelers.
"He is still learning how to play football," said Steelers defensive line/assistant head coach John Mitchell, who is teaching Harris how to play both defensive end and nose tackle.
"He only started one year. In the past, as a junior and as a sophomore; he played in 12 games his junior year and six or seven games his sophomore year."
But what caught Mitchell's eye about him was his ability to move. Harris has a good motor and is extremely agile for a big man.
"He uses his hands well and stays on his feet and can run," Mitchell said. "For a guy in our defense, if he can't use his hands and stay on his feet, he doesn't have a chance to play."
Harris will likely have to do the same with the Steelers, who have a group of established defensive linemen, but he's OK with that.
"I've learned so much already," said Harris, who recorded 65 tackles and four sacks in 36 career games with the Ducks. "The practices here are a little longer than what you're used to in college, but you get to sit in the meetings and then take it right out onto the practice field. Every day is like a pop quiz. But this is the pros, there's no more holding each other's hands. Either you can do it or you can't. Coach Mitchell expects a lot from us."
And perhaps, if Harris can pick things up quickly, he can add an h to his hometown and stick around with the Steelers for the next decade or so much the way many of the team's defensive linemen have.
"The vets here have been awesome," Harris said. "I don't want to say I want to mimic them, but I see what they do and have done and I try to learn from that and then I have to bring what I can to the table as well. I want to add to that."
Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.