On January 12, 2014, at the AFC Divisional Playoff game between the Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers at Mile High Stadium, Chris Harris Jr. was on the edge of stardom.
The cornerback had gone from being an undrafted rookie free agent in 2011 to a starting cornerback for the Denver Broncos. He wasn't a household name, but Harris had slowly earned a reputation as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Pro Football Focus, a service that watches every snap and assigns grades based on player performance, had named him a second-team All-Pro on January 11th. A strong performance in the playoffs could launch Harris into the limelight and get him the recognition he truly deserved.
That didn't happen. Instead, Harris suffered a torn ACL midway through the game against the Chargers. He had to sit on the sidelines and watch as the Broncos streaked to Super Bowl XLVIII, where they later lost to the Seattle Seahawks. Following the season, Harris received no recognition from the NFL—no All-Pro, no Pro Bowl, nothing.
It was a brutal string of disappointments, but Harris responded the only way he knew how—with hard work.
"I just knew I had to come back and have a breakout season," Harris says. "That's what I wanted to do. Not playing in the Super Bowl, that gave me a lot of motivation. I had a goal to come back in seven months and be able to play in the opener."
Following his surgery, Harris used the rehab as a chance to rebuild his running form and eliminate any bad mechanics that had crept into his movements.
"When you tear your ACL, you kind of have to reteach the whole leg how to work. I kind of re-taught myself how to run, how to fix my mechanics and the fundamentals of running. Little things like that. Now I feel faster and quicker," Harris said. "[I worked] on having fast feet, good strides, drive—anything I could to get faster."
Harris rehabbed alongside Von Miller, who had torn his own ACL just weeks before Harris's injury. Getting the chance to work out alongside a freakishly explosive athlete like Miller, who ran a 4.53 40-Yard Dash and clocked a 4.06 20-Yard Shuttle at the 2011 Combine, helped Harris push himself.
"Me and Von got to compete against each other," Harris said. "It was great. Just because you can always compete. When you have that, someone that's competing with you and doing the same thing, it makes you want to push even more. When you have the type of athlete that he is and an athlete like me, we really made each other better."
Not only did Harris reach his goal of returning for the 2014 season opener, he went on to have a spectacular season en route to his first All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections. In December of 2014, he signed a 5-year, $42.5 million contract extension with Denver. Proving that hard work pays off in more ways than one.
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