In the years ahead, the story will surely get bigger. Connor Harris was a star at Division II Lindenwood (St. Charles, MO) who literally did it all.
"I kind of did a lot, I tried to help the team wherever I could. I played quarterback, free safety and I kicked and punted in high school, so that transitioned over to college," he said during the Jets' rookie minicamp. "Coaches knew I could play multiple positions and so when we were in need, I said I'd jump over and let's do it. Anywhere I could help the team out, that's what I did."
At linebacker, the 5'11", 242-pound Harris always found the ball. He became the first player in college history to reach the 600-tackle mark, finishing with 633 including 323 solo stops.
"I didn't have it as a goal or anything, it just sort of happened," Harris said. "I just tried to play as hard as I could every snap of the ball. I had great teammates and head coaches around me that tried to push me to be the best I could be and I was able to do that."
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Harris also finished with 34 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, six interceptions, 14 passes defended, three forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. On special teams, he averaged 37.3 yards on 35 punts. While there is no evidence that he painted the lines on the field and ran the scoreboard, Harris did rush for 328 yards and seven touchdowns as a wildcat quarterback.
"When we were struggling on offense, they'd bring me in," he said of lining up at signal caller. "We had a little package. In high school, I did a lot of zone reads and I did a lot of that in college. So it was just catch, read the defensive end and either (I was) handing it off or pulling it. It was just trying to get a spark going and it worked out a few games. They'd bring me in short yardage stuff like goal line and fourth-and-one when we were going for it."
Harris took on some placekicker duties last season, connecting on all 12 of his PATs. But following a 138-tackle campaign that ended with him being chosen the national Division II defensive player of the year, Harris was listed as a both a linebacker and a fullback before the Kansas City Chiefs' local pro day. He did both offensive and defensive drills prior to the draft, but the Jets signed him as an undrafted free agent and he is listed as a linebacker.
Weighing just 242 pounds and with an arm length of 28 ¾ inches, some pundits believe Harris will have a difficult time getting off blocks at the NFL level. The jump is significant, but Harris points to other Division II standouts who have found success like Seahawks CB Pierre Desir, a Lindenwood alum who was a fourth-round pick of the Browns, Cardinals WR John Brown, a Pittsburg State product who was a third-round pick of Arizona in 2014, and Ravens DT Brandon Williams, a third-rounder from Missouri Southern State taken by Baltimore in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
"We've had a ton of different guys go to the league and make a big impact," Harris said. "I used them as inspiration to put my name out there. and they kind of show the young guys not to lose faith in your abilities and dreams. Keep pushing because there are guys from small schools that can make a big impact."
The name Harris has been kind to the Jets at inside linebacker. David Harris, a second-round pick out of Michigan in 2007, is in second place on the team's all-time tackle list and has led the club in stops in nine of his 10 seasons.
"That's someone I'm hoping takes me under his wing, shows me some good things and really mentors me, just kind of leads me onto his path," Harris said. "He's obviously done some really great things. He does the right thing and just being able to learn from him is going to be huge."
The climb will be a steep one for Harris, but he's come to a land of opportunity. He'll fight for a linebacker reserve role and he'll have to make a dent on special teams. The days of playing everywhere are probably over as the rookie from Lindenwood — the NCAA's all-time tackle leader — begins his NFL path.
"As much as I'm proud of that, it's not what I want to be known for," he said of the tackles mark. "I want to be known as a small-school guy that had his chance to go to the NFL and made the most of it."