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faith over fear erik harris new

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.

In the process of balancing everything, tunnel vision endured. That focus paid off as Harris received multiple offers in track; yet Harris didn't receive a single football offer because his grades and SAT scores were too low.

"We were being told that he was going to have to go into community college and get X-amount of credits and then try to transfer to another school," Higgins said. "So, he wasn't even going into a school for football, which was the picture in our mind. It just wasn't happening like that, and I could see the look on his face when he realized it was not going to happen."

Then Harris received an academic admissions letter in the mail from California University of Pennsylvania (CALU). Higgins asked Harris, "What about this school? We just received a letter in the mail inviting you to come up and visit their school. Do they have a football team?"

"Well yeah they do, a real good one actually," Harris replied.

Harris attended a Penn State University football camp with his grandfather that same year, hoping an opportunity would arise. It never worked out that way. With opportunities diminishing for Harris, Higgins decided to gather all the football clips she could find and wrote a 2-and-a-half-page letter to then CALU head coach John Lockhardt to further support Erik's opportunity to join the team.

"We didn't know a lot about him," Lockhardt said. "He had all the credentials. We looked at the film and he was an outstanding player. We got the letter a little late, so we had already expended our scholarship money, but we encouraged him to come. We said we'd be very fair with him and if he did what we thought he could do, then we'd scholarship him."

Harris would agree to join CALU as a walk-on but making the football team wasn't his only concern. During his first year in college, Theresa, Erik and three other people got into a car accident right outside of CALU, hospitalizing Theresa due to brain injuries.

"It was a lot you know," Harris said. "My girlfriend at the time, now my wife we went through a lot. I would say she definitely suffered a lot more from a health standpoint having seizures and short-term memory loss. It threw her off. It threw her college courses and path off, so it was definitely a scary moment for us, but I think in the end it brought us closer."

The heaviness from everything started to weigh Harris down. From thinking about his girlfriend to trying to earn a full scholarship on the team football team, it was a stressful time for him.

Despite what transpired, Harris credits his wife for being the staple and glue for him and his life as he chased his football dream.

"I feel like I relate to my wife as she is one of the ones in the trenches. She doesn't get all the highlights but she's the one keeping it all together." Harris said.

"We always get the highlights, right? It's like quarterbacks and receivers, they get highlighted but the guys in the trenches are the ones that kind of get overlooked."

During that time when Harris was climbing his way up the ladder at CALU, Theresa played a pivotal role in keeping him centered. Harris came in and established himself early amongst a secondary that featured Tommie Campbell, Rontez Miles, and Terrence Johnson who also played in the NFL after CALU.

"The thing that I liked about him is that he could come up to be the strong safety and play in the box, but he also could play deep in Cover 2 or Man 2 and range for the ball," Luckhardt said.

Harris didn't earn a scholarship until his second year at CALU, after leading the team in special teams tackles during his freshman campaign.

"He was thrilled that we recognized who he was, what he was doing, and how happy we were for him and how happy he was for his family," Lockhardt said.

In his four years at CALU, Harris tallied 231 tackles, nine interceptions, six sacks and was second-team all-conference at the conclusion of his senior season. Harris decided to take his final two semesters off to train for the NFL Draft, however; things didn't go as he planned.

At the close of his summer stint with Utz, Harris returned back to CALU in 2012 to finish his last two semesters while working at UPS scanning boxes and loading trucks.

It wasn't enough money to support him and wife Theresa, who was pregnant with twins at the time, so he applied for a management position.

"My wife was like 'they see two, possibly three [babies]' and I was like, 'man, I don't know what I'm going to do,'" Harris said. "The first thing for me was the anxiety and the pressure of providing for my family. My dad wasn't around, and I saw the struggles my mom went through."

"…I started talking to an Air Force recruiter and I knew I needed to do whatever I had to do to provide for my family. I know if we were married, they would move us around, provide benefits and all that stuff."


Harris never did join the Air Force but kept working at UPS up until 2013. Around the same time, he was told about a Canadian Football League tryout with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats by a friend. He had already tried out for an arena and CFL team but that didn't work out initially. This was his last shot at making a team. Harris drove up to Buffalo and paid 80 dollars to try out for the Tiger-Cats, which divinely worked out for him.

Two days later, he received a call from Shawn Burke, Tiger-Cats director of football operations at the time, saying that he had made the team.

"He was like, 'I'm sending over a contract and look over it with your agent.' I was like 'man, I'm going to the library and printing it off. I'm not looking it over with anybody outside of this thing," Harris said, while laughing.

When Harris began his preseason with the Tiger-Cats, being cut always loomed in the back of his mind.

"I was having a hard time with what young guys are probably going through right now," Harris said. "You get caught up in the depth chart, how many reps you're getting in practice and my coach just shared one story with us about his past and I stayed afterwards and told him, 'Hey, that really resonated with me about just controlling what you can control.'

"From that day on, I just worried about what I could do. Preseason panned out for me. Unfortunately, people got hurt and that provided an opportunity for me, and I made plays in the preseason."

When cuts came around, Harris still pondered on if the team was going to release him or not. They didn't have a roster spot for him, but still offered him the opportunity to join the practice squad. In that first week of being on the practice squad, Harris was elevated to the active roster.

"I was activated to more of a special teams guy," Harris said. "People got hurt and when they got hurt, I filled in, made plays and that was pretty much all she wrote."

During his three-year CFL career with Hamilton, he recorded 27 special teams' tackles, 79 defensive tackles, three interceptions and had one touchdown on offense. A standout career in the CFL led Harris to signing a three-year reserve/future contract with New Orleans Saints 2016.

Unfortunately, that opportunity was short lived. He suffered an ACL tear in practice, which limited him to only four games during his rookie year. He was eventually waived by the Saints in 2017. Three days later, the Las Vegas Raiders signed him to a one-year deal initially. After a breakout year in 2018, the Raiders re-signed Harris to a two-year contract which kept him in Oakland through 2020.

After his contract ended with the Raiders, Harris signed with the Falcons in March 2021. The "OG", a nickname given to Harris by the younger players, has persevered through every obstacle to reach this point in his life. As a Christian and spirit-led individual, Harris has always kept his faith in God knowing his steps were ordered, which led him to start his own brand called 'Having Faith.'

"My brand represents the three nails and having faith because every time I share my story, it's about having faith whether you're religious or not," Harris said. "For me, I had faith in God knowing that everything was always going to pan out. Whatever goals I have, I can keep pushing forward because of the purpose for me and my life.

"Scripture says everything. It's always a word of encouragement for people to keep going and pushing in life."

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