LIONS INSIDER

Football a saving grace for one "Together We Make Football" finalist, Chris Harris

Posted Nov 30, 2013

Football has been so much more than just a game to Harris

Detroit– Detroit native Chris Harris, 32, is a finalist for the NFL’s "Together we make football" competition.

Thousands of people across the country shared their stories of why they love football in a contest to win a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII.

Harris’ story was selected as one of the 10 finalists and was chronicled by NFL Films.

Football has been so much more than just a game to Harris. There was a time in his life when depression and alcoholism had taken over his life. One of the things that helped bring him back was football.

Depression can be a dark place.

At least it was for Harris growing up on Detroit’s East Side. The constant ridicule from classmates about his 500-pound frame, and the social awkwardness that accompanied it, led Harris farther and farther into those dark places early in his life.

So dark, in fact, it eventually led him away from Osborn High School and onto the streets.

"I was struggling socially," Harris said. "As far as wanting to fit in and wanting to be cool. I was also getting teased a lot and the downfall of my high school life was when I found out how easy it was to just walk out the door. I just walked out of school and nobody stopped me and nobody said anything.

"The first couple times it was scary, but I was trying to run away from that torment. I didn’t want to have to deal with that."

Harris turned to alcohol to numb the pain and his life was spiraling so out of control to the point he didn’t think he’d ever make it to the age of 20.

SAVING GRACE

Harris grew up a huge Detroit Lions fan and big football fan in general.

Chris Harris

"My very first memories of football was how much of a big deal it was from getting around the TV on Lions football Sunday," Harris said. "To this day there’s still a phrase that we repeat, sometimes that I repeated to my dad, ‘It’s the kickoff, dad.’ Screaming at him to tell him to come in because they were about to kick the ball off."

The hours playing football on the neighborhood fields are still some of the fondest memories Harris has of his childhood.

"We had a small field and a big field where I grew up," he said. "The small field was across the street and that’s where me and my cousins and a few of the guys down the street played.

"But then there was also the big field. That’s where guys from other streets played. I couldn’t always play in that game, but I did get one chance to play. I made some plays that still stand out as some of the biggest plays of my life."

Football ended up being Harris’ saving grace.

In 2000, when Harris was 19 years old, his mother Toni saw a flyer for the Motor City Cougars semi-pro football team and its upcoming tryouts.

At the time, Harris had barely graduated from Osborn High and was unemployed, drinking and suicidal.

He made the Cougars roster and it was the beginning of his long road back to health and happiness.

Harris had just lost his grandfather around the time he joined the Cougars and depression was starting to take him back into some of those dark places again.

"Depression actually kick-started my weight loss," he said. "I really stopped eating. I was so depressed it would hurt to even smile or open my mouth."

The running at practice helped too.

Harris still remembers the hill he and his teammates would run before and after practice near their practice field on West Warren and Telegraph. Harris lost nearly 150 pounds and got down to around 350 pounds.

"I just loved it," Harris said. "The practices were the highlight of my day."

GETTING BACK ON TRACK

Harris played for the Cougars for four years. He was still battling through depression during that span, but football was keeping him going.

It was also around that time he began to think about the direction of his life and he knew school had to be a part of his future.

He enrolled in Macomb Community College and transferred to Wayne State in 2006 with the goal of getting into social work.

"What I’ve been through growing up and the way I feel about people, especially kids, I knew I had to go into the health service," Harris said.

"I was literally one semester short of graduating (from Wayne State in 2009) before I fell into what was the worst mental health crises of my life. It lasted for about two years and culminated with a pure psychological breakdown.

"But I rose up again and that’s one thing I was talking about in the (Together We Make Football) piece."

Harris transferred to Oakland University in 2011 and finished his undergraduate studies in Integrated Studies.

He’s currently in the graduate counseling program at Oakland.

It was at Oakland this past fall where football crept back into Harris’ life once again.

"I spend a lot of time, when I can, in the recreation center," Harris said. "I was just walking in into the rec center and saw a little flyer saying Oakland was trying to bring a football club here.

"I immediately took down the number and got ahold of Dave Brosky (club president) and told him it was going to take someone like him to bring football to Oakland."

At 6-foot-5, 360 pounds, Harris wasn’t your typical defensive tackle on the National Club Football Association circuit this past fall. He ended up being a force.

Every member of the 35-man team paid $650 for equipment and a $200 team fee.

Crowds were small and they even had a game forfeited when the opposing team forgot to pay the refs. But that doesn’t much matter to Harris.

Football has helped him out of some of the darkest places in his life and considers it a gift every time he gets to strap on that helmet.

"Anytime I got really down football would come knocking," Harris said. "That’s why I love football."