Thursday, Nov 27, 2014
Central High School

The start of something special?

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Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 07:47 PM

It started with a humorous tweet from Jim Rome. It ended with some high praise from Aaron Rodgers.

Many folks in Hernando County know what DuJuan Harris can do running with a football. Last Sunday night, a national television audience learned the same.

Roughly a month and a half removed from the NFL's unemployment line, the 2007 Central High graduate opened some eyes when the Green Bay Packers took on the Detroit Lions on NBC's Sunday Night Football telecast.

The big story in the eyes of most was the Packers' 27-20 victory at a snowy Lambeau Field inching them closer to an NFC North crown.

But around these parts, Football Night in America became Foxx's Night in America, at least for a few moments.

Cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers just before the start of the regular season, Harris finally saw his first official action since the Packers signed him to their practice squad Oct. 24.

"It just felt good to get back out on the field," said Harris by telephone after the team's practice on Thursday. "I haven't been out there since the preseason."

He wasted no time shaky off the rust – and shaking up an opponent.

Harris received a carry on Green Bay's first offensive snap, and ran around the right end for an 11-yard gain.

Detroit safety Ricardo Silva was credited with the tackle, but not before getting leveled in a collision with the 5-foot-8, 203-pound Harris.

That play inspired Rome, the well-known sports talk show host, to post this tweet: "Dude! DuJuan Harris??!? Listed at 5-8?! That was a violent truck job. Might want to re-insert him."

The Packers eventually did, but it wasn't until the fourth quarter that Harris truly struck a blow to the visiting Lions.

His team having rallied from a 14-0 deficit, Harris put Green Bay in front rushing 14 yards to the end zone with 10:45 left.

It was the first touchdown in Harris' professional career, which began last year with Jacksonville after he was signed as an undrafted rookie out of Troy University.

What followed was Harris partaking in the customary "Lambeau Leap" as he jumped headfirst into the crowd behind the end zone.

As a high school senior, Harris won state championships in the long and triple jumps. Yet high jump skills were required to pull off the celebration.

"It felt good," Harris said. "I knew I had to do the leap when I scored, so I was hoping I'd make it. That wall is a lot higher than people think.

"I had my face down. I couldn't see much. I know next time, hopefully if I get another chance, try to jump in and turn around."

For the game, Harris ran seven times for 31 yards, part of a breakthrough 140-yard effort for the maligned Packer ground attack.

NBC's Michele Tafoya asked Green Bay's quarterback Rodgers about the team's rushing performance in an on-field postgame interview.

Commenting on each of the running backs who made significant contributions that night, the NFL's reigning MVP and State Farm pitchman said something that probably had some locals double-checking more than their insurance discounts.

"DuJuan Harris, you know, he could be special down the road," Rodgers told Tafoya, a smile spreading across his face.

"I have a lot of respect for Aaron," Harris said. "I appreciate him saying that. I really don't have the words to explain what it means to get that kind of comment from one of the best quarterbacks to play the game. It's a great honor.

"I've got to keep working to become something special."

Harris said he had 108 texts message waiting for him on his cell phone after the game, not to mention numerous missed calls.

His athlete page on Facebook "got a lot of attention. And my Twitter went crazy."

He heard rumor that he was a trending topic on Twitter during the game, in part due to Rome's tweet, though he isn't sure that's true.

Regardless, it's quite a long way to go for a player just hoping to receive another opportunity to play in the NFL only a few months ago.

"Things happen for a reason," Harris said. "I pray about a lot of things and blessings don't come when you want them to. But they always come on time. I looked at it as a test of faith.

"Things happen for a reason, and things happened just the way they were supposed to so I could have that moment."

So far he has enjoyed his time in Green Bay. There's a family feel in the Packer locker room, he said, and they have quickly accepted him.

Then there's the teams loyal fan base that supports a major pro franchise out of a small Wisconsin town.

"It's been great up here," Harris said. "It's just been cold."

The Brooksville native is obviously used to a warmer climate. However, he's not back home anymore, and folks outside this area are starting to learn more about him.

One reporter asked him after the Lions game about his Twitter handle, @Ol_sLy_Foxx. That led to Harris explaining his life-long nickname, Foxx, given to him by his parents since he was born with red hair.

On Friday night, the Green Bay Press Gazette's website featured a Q&A article on Harris. It includes another explanation of the Foxx moniker, among other details.

So Hernando County's gridiron secret is out. He said he appreciates the hometown support and enjoys showing what this county can produce.

Despite everything that took place last weekend, though, he remains far from satisfied.

The Packers play in Chicago this afternoon, hoping to clinch a division title, giving him his first chance to prove he's no one-game wonder.

"It's my dream, but it's also my job," Harris said. "I feel like I'm not there yet. I'm here and everything is fine. But I want to be able to get my mother a new house, so she doesn't have to worry about much. Until I've done that, I won't feel like I did it.

"But it's a blessing every day waking up saying I'm an NFL player, and I'm helping my team win and try to make it to the Super Bowl."


cbernhardt@hernandotoday.com (352) 544-5288

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