Harris' Long, Winding Road to the NFL

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Many different player pedigrees go into making an NFL playoff contender. Big-money unrestricted free agents and big-money rookies join old reliable returnees and young reliable vets to make a dynamic, pedal-to-the-metal roster.

And once in a while, a player who's been on a pothole-filled career finds the on-ramp, merges onto the superhighway and helps in the drive to the title.

Perhaps for the Jets, Anthony Harris is one of those kinds of players.

"It's hard," Harris said today after working at the OTA practice in the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center fieldhouse. "It was a bumpy road trying to get here."

If you'd heard of Harris before he signed on with the Green & White, you're probably from the Midwest or you're a fan of lower-level indoor football or both.

For 3½ seasons, he was a defensive/offensive lineman for the Rock River Raptors franchise, now based in Rockford, Ill., in the Continental Indoor Football League. Earlier this year he started out for the Milwaukee Iron in arenafootball2.

He was also a long-snapper for both teams.

He was also an indoor football star.

On the Rock River Website, Harris is remembered as a "Raptors great" in a headline and as "the real deal" by his former coach. Even though he played only two games for Milwaukee, the Iron referred to him as a "defensive standout" and a "premier player."

"When you get out on the field, it's kind of like everybody gets to recognize you," Harris said. "You're kind of like a small-town hero."

That was good for a long time (in football years) for Harris, but he said he never abandoned his dream of playing in the NFL.

"It was a thought," he said. "At the same time, I had to focus on what I was doing then. But I thought about it. I never did give up on it. I continued to send my film out."

The reason Harris didn't get to travel the road more taken to the NFL had to do with his college — he didn't get invited to the NFL Combine and Western New Mexico didn't have a pro day after his last season there in 2004 — and his weight.

"When I came out of college, I only weighed, like, 255," he recalled. "I put on a few pounds and when I had a tryout with Philadelphia in 2006, I was 265. I guess I was just too light, so I was still playing arena ball."

He bulked up (naturally — "I never took any supplements," he said with a smile) to 292 and got a tryout and signing with Carolina last year, but never made it to training camp.

Then earlier this year, he attended a camp for hopeful punters, kickers and snappers in Scottsdale, Ariz. Jets special teams coach Kevin O'Dea was among the NFL personnel in attendance.

Harris felt he snapped well there but had to return to work. Single but still a man who needed to make a living, he had to keep playing ball and working another job in a juvenile detention center in Rockford.

"I was getting ready to go to work when the Jets gave me a call and told me to come in," he said. Asked if it was an emotional day to get the offer to sign with the Jets after the minicamp, he replied:

"Yeah, it was. I knew I had snapped pretty good at the camp. But once they told me they were going to sign me, it kind of hit me a little late but I was very happy."

There are still no guarantees for Harris. A 27-year-old first-year player, he'll be trying to unseat James Dearth, the Jets' eight-year long-snapper. He could still make the roster on the D-line, but the Jets seem to be stocked there with veteran starters and young backup candidates.

But Harris is OK with that. He's got his foot in the door and he's still pursuing his dream. And any raw rookie nerves long ago were replaced by the experience that comes with being a midwestern indoor standout.

"I'm very excited," Harris said of his chance. "I think I've got a pretty good chance. If I go out, work hard every day, do what I've got to do, I think I'll be all right."

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