• 75°

Harris fulfills a dream and a promise by signing with the Colts

When he played his first football game at the Vicksburg YMCA as a child, DeMichael Harris says, he told his mother that one day he’d play in the NFL.

Sunday morning he sat in his home looking over a contract that was much more than a piece of paper. It was a pathway to opportunity, and a promise and dream fulfilled.

Harris, a former St. Aloysius and Southern Miss star, agreed to a free agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts following the conclusion of the NFL draft on Saturday. He hasn’t officially signed yet — that’ll take a few days as paperwork is double checked and passed around between Harris’ agent Bus Cook and the team — but he will be in the Colts’ training camp later this summer.

“I printed out the contract this morning, and it was crazy sitting there actually looking at an NFL contract. It was definitely surreal. I’m just thankful and blessed, man,” Harris said. “I told my mom from my first YMCA game that I would go pro. It’s crazy to see it come to reality. I just want to thank God, and my family, teammates, coaches, all the supporters and the city of Vicksburg and everybody that’s had my back. Many people don’t get the opportunity to even go play college football, and I’m getting the opportunity to play on the top level.”

Harris rushed for 3,689 yards and 47 touchdowns in his high school career at St. Aloysius. He set the school’s single-season rushing record with 2,102 yards in 2014, and Warren County’s single-game record with 395 yards against Bayou Academy in 2015. He also was Mississippi’s Gatorade Track and Field Athlete of the Year twice, in 2015 and 2016, as he set MHSAA and MAIS records in the 100, 200 and 400 meters.

After two seasons at Hinds Community College he went to Southern Miss and had a solid career. He had 1,208 total yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns while playing as both a running back and slot receiver. He also returned kickoffs and punts, which he said will be his path to making the Colts’ 53-man opening day roster.

Harris averaged 25.8 yards on 23 kickoff returns during his two seasons at Southern Miss, and broke one for a 100-yard touchdown last season against Louisiana Tech.

“They wanted me with a heavy emphasis on special teams and to make an impact in the return game. The establishment they have there fit my character. They’re looking for character guys and it’s definitely somewhere where I felt like I fit,” Harris said. “I’m not really expecting to get in too much on the offensive side. I’m always ready when my name’s called, but I’m focusing on making the 53-man roster. Whether that’s on offense or special teams, I really don’t care.”

Harris knew going into the draft that he’d likely wind up having to make the NFL as an undrafted free agent. He had contact with several teams leading up to the draft, and as the final rounds ticked by Saturday afternoon it had narrowed down to two — the Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He started getting calls from both near the start of the fifth round, and by the end of the sixth he’d made up his mind.

“The Colts, I felt like, were the best situation for me and I chose them, but Pittsburgh was definitely in there too. They (Colts) were the first team to really reach out to me after the season ended,” Harris said.

Harris said he also likes that the Colts usually give undrafted free agents a fair shake. He is one of 10 that they signed after this year’s draft, and the only offensive skill position player. They also drafted two receivers and one running back. Including returning veterans, Harris is one of 20 receivers and running backs competing for about 10 total roster sports.

“When I was talking to the coach, he said that they have a 21-year streak of a free agent making the 53-man roster. So I feel like I have a good chance of making that 22 years and keeping that streak alive,” Harris said.

A moment later, Harris acknowledged it won’t be easy making the final roster. He knows he’ll have to show he’s something special once training camp begins.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge. It’s definitely going to be something that motivates me,” he said. “Especially me being a special teams guy and being able to play in the slot receiver position and in the backfield, I think that might be an advantage to me as opposed to someone who only plays one position. I can be very versatile.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

email author More by Ernest