At one point in his life, as recently as 14 months ago, basketball came first for Chiefs tight end Demetrius Harris.
For Harris, a 6-foot-7 power forward who averaged 9.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game as a senior in 2012-2013 for Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the sport was clearly his first love, even after the Chiefs signed him as an undrafted free agent last spring.
Now, even one year later, Harris still admits he still hasn't quite eradicated basketball from his system. When he's not learning the finer points of being an NFL tight end, he even likes to hop over to a basketball court behind a church near his town home and get a few shots up.
“Every once in a while, just to shoot around,” Harris said,” I still have love for the game.”
But all it takes is a glimpse of him during the Chiefs ' practices to see that these days, football may slowly be winning out — with a huge assist to hoops.
“It helps a lot,” Harris said of his basketball background. “It's the reason for my ability to come in and out of the cuts, and in basketball, you've got to stay down and then go up the highest point you can (when rebounding).”
Though Harris dropped a few passes the first few days of rookie camp last week, he's since caught his coaches' eyes during the first three practices of organized training activities with a handful of impressive catches, including several over the middle in which he's reached high to pluck the ball out of the air over much-shorter defensive backs.
“I always used to catch (alley) oops,” Harris said. “So I love those high balls.”
He very clearly is relishing the opportunity to show it after spending all of last season on the practice squad. Any football player knows that playing on the scout team is no fun, but Harris understood that he needed time to develop, both mentally and physically, since he hadn't played football since his senior year at Jacksonville (Ark.) High School, where he caught 47 passes for 738 yards and nine touchdowns as a receiver his senior season and was all state.
“I was just waiting my turn and picking the veterans' brains, from (Anthony) Fasano) to (Sean) McGrath and even (Travis) Kelce,” Harris said. “They were helping me with the little details. Those guys are great because they always give me tips every time I need one. I lean on them.”
But while Harris admits his quest to master Andy Reid's intricate West Coast playbook is an ongoing battle — “it's reading the defense, knowing how to set up faster, just thinking quicker,” he said — it appears he's already made a significant transformation physically.
“I was at 225 (pounds) when I first got here, now I'm at 257,” Harris said. “It's big, because all offseason I was here working out with Barry (Rubin), our strength coach, and he's been getting me right with my upper body strength and keeping my speed up at this weight. It's been good — I feel a lot stronger.”
That's good, because Harris admitted he realized he certainly had a ways to go in that area when he first arrived in Kansas City.
“Whatever it took — my biggest downfall was my strength,” Harris said. “Basketball, we hardly lifted weights … we lifted, but it wasn't that heavy because we had games every two days.”
Now Harris, who could barely bench-press 225 pounds once when he began with the Chiefs, said he’s repping that regularly.
Reid said he can see the physical transformation.
“Oh absolutely,” Reid said. “First of all, he did a great job in the weight room. He and Barry became one there. They joined hips there and started working that son-of-a-gun to where he felt strong, and so far he’s been able to transfer that on the field, which is a good thing.”
The key for Harris, he said, will be making sure he continues to perform when the pads come on for training camp. So far, he's been starring in non-padded practices in helmets and shorts.
“It’s not live,” Reid said. “So we have to see that part of it as we go.”
But there's little doubt in Harris’ mind that he's closer to being able to do that than ever, thanks to his bright future and a budding love for the game.
“Yeah, I'm a football guy now,” Harris said. “Strictly football.”
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.