Just 10 years ago, Erik Harris went undrafted. After stints of working at a potato chip factory and UPS, Harris received an opportunity to play in the Canadian Football League, which led to a shot at playing in the NFL. The veteran safety is now in his seventh-year in the NFL and second season with the Atlanta Falcons.
On the road less traveled, Harris' faith never wavered to realize a dream he worked his entire life for.
Story by Ashton Edmunds
On the last night of the 2012 NFL Draft, Erik Harris sat waiting patiently, hoping to hear his name called.
It was an opportunity he worked his whole life for. That moment never came.
No NFL team reached out to Harris for a shot to compete for a roster spot during rookie-minicamp as an undrafted free agent.
Then days went by. Still nothing.
"It was breaking my heart just to see him go through that," said Christine Higgins, Erik Harris' mother, "just because we didn't know if that was the end of his football career."
During this doubt-filled period, Harris went back home to New Oxford, Penn., and got a job at an Utz Potato Chip factory that summer in 2012. Higgins worked at one of the Utz plants and gave Harris a recommendation to her boss, which made it easier for the then 23-year-old to get the job. Following his orientation, he was assigned as a corn-mixer.
"I was kind of asking around like 'what's a corn-mixer?' and everybody was like 'man, that's the worst job in the building," Harris said. "I found out it was the worst job but, for me, I never been a quitter and I just kind of sucked it up that summer and did the job.
"In 110-degree heat, jeans on, above 600-degree ovens and it was a lot of 11-hour days. It put in perspective what my mom really went through."
Higgins was a single mother who raised Harris and his four brothers while working a factory job. Even while carrying a heavy load, she never missed a beat. Whether it was a football game or doctor's appointment, Higgins was always there for Harris and his siblings. Harris still remains in admiration of the sacrifices his mother made when he was growing up, which naturally instilled a never-quit mentality in him.
From going undrafted, to working at a potato chip factory and UPS, to getting his shot at playing in the CFL, to now competing in his seventh season in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons. On the road less traveled, Harris defied the odds and persevered through every obstacle thrown his way.
That's been the ethos of his life's journey.
Shortly after Harris' birth in Los Angeles, Higgins moved to Baltimore to be closer to her family after she and Harris' father split when Erik was just three months old. Growing up, Harris was always a good and very competitive kid.
The game of football was introduced to Harris early in the third grade after he and his family took a trip to the grocery store but noticed a football field with lights coating the green grass.
Higgins was cautious about letting Harris play football because of how physical the game was.
"Of course, me being mom," Higgins said, "I was concerned at the time but right off the bat, he was good at it."
Harris, his mom, and his stepfather at the time walked over, signed him up, completed his physical and he officially started playing tackle football in the Essex area of Maryland. As an all-around athlete, Harris ran track and played both football and basketball. However, he fell in love with playing on the gridiron due to the brotherhood and the camaraderie that was cultivated in the locker room amongst players and coaches.
"Growing up in a single-parent household," Harris said, "having those men role models in my life was really important to me."
In the middle of fifth grade, Higgins moved the family to New Oxford, Penn, roughly 60 miles north of Baltimore, where Harris would meet his now wife, Theresa. Harris completed his prep career at New Oxford High School; while he also helped to take care of his younger siblings when his mom worked.
As the oldest of four brothers, helping his mother out was never a problem; in fact, it made him feel good to lighten his mom's load. Even with the extra responsibility of helping at home, Harris continued to excel in football, basketball, and track.