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Davontae Harris overcame broken family, release from Bengals to have nice season with Broncos

Harris lost his starting cornerback job this week, but he's overcome stiffer adversity.
Credit: AP
Denver Broncos cornerback Davontae Harris (27) celebrates with free safety Justin Simmons (31) after breaking up a pass in the end zone during the first half of NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Kids in local schools would get excited if the likes of Von Miller or Phillip Lindsay showed up to speak to their classrooms.

The Broncos’ player Denver’s youth – kids anywhere, for that matter -- need to hear from is Davontae Harris.

Here is a cornerback who had fallen so far, he was essentially told by the Cincinnati Bengals – the pathetic, 0-11 Bengals – that he wasn’t good to work for them. Ha!

Harris was cut during the setting of the Bengals’ regular season roster just a year after the team drafted him in the fifth round. Granted, a previous regime had liked him enough to draft him. And few knew back on August 31 when he was cut that the Bengals with new coach Zac Taylor would be winless going into the month of December.

Still, to be essentially fired by the Bengals is like being told by a weekend golfer with a 30 handicap that your swing is bad. It doesn’t get any lower. Thing is, to show bad the Bengals are, Harris wasn’t all that bothered to be unemployed.

“For me, I didn’t really take it too hard just because I didn’t feel like the environment was the best environment for me,’’ Harris said this week in a sit-down interview with 9News. “I didn’t feel like it was a place for me to grow long-term as far as getting an opportunity. I felt like I didn’t get many opportunities there so for me it wasn’t the worst thing that happened.

“Maybe the way that it happened it wasn’t the most ideal way of going out. But, for me it was a blessing in disguise. It was an eye-opener in regards to how the league works and how it feels to be put in that position, but it was also a great opportunity for me to go somewhere else and make plays.”

The next day, Harris had a new, one-year, $570,000 arrangement with the Broncos. After playing in only three games late in his rookie season with the Bengals, and then only as a special teamer, Harris replaced Broncos’ injured De’Vante Bausby in game 5 against the Los Angeles Chargers, then started each of the next six Broncos’ games at the cornerback position opposite Chris Harris Jr.

In his first NFL start the following week against the Tennessee Titans, Davontae Harris played all 66 snaps. He’s played 100 percent of the defensive snaps in five games this season.

His lesson to all those youngsters out there, no matter how bad it seems, hang in there.

“Initially, when I first got here, my idea was to go and be a special teams Pro Bowler,’’ he said. “I want to fly around as gunner, fly around on kickoffs. Whatever they wanted me to do, I wanted to be the best at it. And  I figured coming from Cincinnati with only special teams experience that’s the role I was going to get.”

Davontae Harris won’t start today against the Chargers. Opposing quarterbacks began to attack  him two weeks ago, and when he apparently didn’t have a good practice Wednesday, Broncos head coach Vic Fangio replaced Harris with Isaac Yiadom.

“It’s one of those things where you have to take the good plays with the bad plays,’’ Harris said. “You have to realize plays are going to happen but you have to make more plays than plays are made on you. That’s just the reality of playing corner and that’s the reality of being a young guy in the NFL.’’

Harris can handle it. His story involves far greater adversity than getting cut by the Bengals or benched by the Broncos.

He grew up in Wichita, Kansas in what a family that became broken when he was 9 to 10 years old, or about the time a child starts seeking approval and grasps the concept of right from wrong.

It was not an easy upbringing.

“Not at all,’’ he said. “Initially I was brought up with my mom -- my dad wasn’t really around -- and my two older brothers. I want to say when I was in fourth grade, my two older brothers wound up getting in trouble with the law. Both got incarcerated in a juvenile detention center.

It really took a hit on my mom really hard. Her mechanism with coping was through drugs. So she fell off the wagon in regards to that and it was kind of me trying to figure out things for myself for a decent amount of years.

“And then going into my sophomore year of high school (Wichita South) I ended getting basically adopted by my two older cousins. From that point on they became my parents.”

Thanks in no small part to Antonio and Kristy Baker, Davontae didn’t stray to life’s dark side of life. He played four years, starting for three, at Illinois State.

He is one of the Broncos’ more perceptive and mature players, sitting quietly at his locker, but soaking in everything that comes by.

“I kind of live off principals,’’ he said. “ I feel like no matter what situation you’re in or what environment you’re in, everyone knows right from wrong. As long I continue to steer in the right path then good things will happen.”

Harris does speak to kids in school. He has donated school supplies to underprivileged students in his hometown of Wichita.

Here’s hoping the children pay attention to what he has to say.

RELATED: Klis' Mike Drop podcast: Broncos Week 13 tilt with the Chargers and 1-on-1 with Davontae Harris