During their two seasons as road roommates with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Erik Harris and Delvin Breaux used to talk about playing in the NFL all the time. Breaux made it happen last winter, signing with the New Orleans Saints and enjoying a stellar rookie campaign.
Then he helped Harris get there, too.
It was Breaux who put in a good word with the Saints coaching staff, selling both the on-field abilities (excellent speed packed into a 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame) and an off-field work ethic of his friend and former teammate. The sell job was enough to get Harris a workout on Tuesday in New Orleans.
“I was nervous because it was a shot at the NFL but it was even worse because Delvin was there to support me,” Harris said Wednesday. “I knew he had gone out on a limb for me and I didn’t want to let him down.”
Breaux needn’t have worried. Harris performed well in the on-field drills — it was his only NFL workout — and impressed coaches with his usual combination of humility-infused confidence when they chatted with him afterwards. The Saints need some special teams help (they were ranked 26 of 32 teams by footballoutsiders.com) and Harris has played on every kick and coverage unit during his time with the Ticats.
“The fact that I’ve played so much special teams in the CFL was certainly a big help,” Harris said. “It’s my best shot at making the club.”
As Harris ate lunch with Breaux in the cafeteria, agent Gil Scott — who represents both players — hammered out a contract with the Saints front office. Harris signed it and caught his flight home.
“It happened so fast, it was unbelievable,” Harris. “It was like a dream coming true in an instant.”
Harris was slated to become a CFL free agent on Feb. 9 and while he was hoping for an NFL opportunity, he was fully prepared to return to Canada. As a strong-side linebacker — a hybrid position that requires a defensive back’s quickness and a linebacker’s physicality — Harris would have likely drawn interest from several CFL teams.
“Gil and I talked about that, for sure,” Harris said. “But if this is a legitimate NFL opportunity — and we think it is — I didn’t want to pass it up and then always wonder ‘what if?’”
Reaction on social media from Ticats fans to news of Harris’ departure — it broke late Tuesday night — was universally positive and heartfelt. Harris has been active on Twitter and Instagram and has clearly formed a connection with the community.
He got stuck at the Buffalo Airport after the birth of his twins during his rookie season and cabbed it home after several ride offers from fans fell through (it cost him $190.) He’s used Instagram to chronicle the ongoing adventures in parenting posed by sons Isaiah and Elijiah, now two-and-half. Harris isn’t a star but those that closely follow the team feel like they know him.
On Wednesday, Harris repeatedly conveyed his appreciation for the city, team and fans that gave him his start in pro football and then took to Twitter to express those sentiments directly.
“When people are more excited to see you get an opportunity because of the type of person you are, that’s touching,” he wrote. “#ForeverGrateful”