University of Missouri

Mizzou’s Charles Harris, Lincoln Prep grad, declares for NFL Draft

Charles Harris declares for NFL Draft

University of Missouri defensive end Charles Harris, from Lincoln Prep and Kansas City, will enter the 2017 NFL Draft after a career in Columbia in which he compiled 18 career sacks.
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University of Missouri defensive end Charles Harris, from Lincoln Prep and Kansas City, will enter the 2017 NFL Draft after a career in Columbia in which he compiled 18 career sacks.

If Missouri defensive end Charles Harris’ career trajectory is instructive, it would be unwise for future NFL foes to try and embarrass him.

Harris, a Lincoln Prep graduate from Kansas City, Mo., announced Thursday at the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex that he will forego his final season of eligibility and enter the 2017 NFL Draft.

The declaration caps a meteoric five-year rise since an afternoon’s indignity prompted Harris to play football for the first time as a high school junior.

Former Lincoln Prep coach Lee Allen had tried to convince Harris to play football for several years, so Allen was understandably delighted when Harris walked into a team meeting.

“He asked me what I was doing in there and I said I was here with somebody else,” Harris said. “He was like, ‘Oh, I thought you were trying to play football.’ I was like, no, and then somebody on the team was like, ‘He’s too scared.’”

That didn’t sit well with Harris, especially when the room erupted in laughter as he walked out.

“I couldn’t go to sleep like that with people thinking I was really scared to play football or something like that, so I was on the team the next day and that’s all she wrote,” Harris said.

Harris, who also starred for the Blue Tigers’ basketball team in high school, flew under the radar as a late-comer to the gridiron and was set to sign with Division II Missouri Western on a basketball scholarship before Mizzou came through with a scholarship offer in early February 2013.

Harris and his father, William, drove to Columbia and met with Andy Hill, who is the Tigers’ primary recruiter in Kansas City.

It was a no-brainer to accept the scholarship offer that came a few hours later.

By simply getting to Mizzou, Harris defied the odds, but it still seemed unimaginable he’d morph into a potential first-round pick.

Nonetheless, Harris is a top-20 prospect according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay as well as College Football Focus and is widely projected as a first-round pick.

“I can’t really articulate what the emotions are,” said Charles said. “It sounds repetitive, but I really am just blessed. I never saw this coming. … It’s just amazing how God works.”

After redshirting in 2013, Harris racked up 18 career sacks during the last three seasons, which is tied with Rick Lyle for seventh on Mizzou’s all-time list, and his 34  1/2 career tackles for a loss rank 12th in program history.

“When I got up here my freshman year to Mizzou, watching Shane (Ray) and MG (Markus Golden) and all those guys battle day in and day out when I was redshirting, it taught me a lot and really motivated me and cultivated and gave me this fire in my heart and this passion for the game to want to be great,” said Harris, who finished second in the SEC with 18  1/2 tackles for a loss as a sophomore in 2015.

Harris started slow in the Tigers’ new defensive scheme this season, but he finished with a career-high nine sacks — tied for ninth on MU’s single-season list with Brian Smith (2005) — and added 12 tackles for a loss, including 5  1/2 sacks and 6  1/2 tackles for a loss in the final four games.

“We’re going to miss him, no doubt, but it’s time for him to take his talents to the NFL,” first-year MU coach Barry Odom said in a statement from the athletic department. “Certainly, I wish we could have another year with Charles leading our program, but there’s no question in my mind that he’s ready for the next level.”

It still seems surreal for Harris, who needs to complete an internship next semester to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in health science and a minor in sociology. It also seems surreal to his family.

“When I watch Markus play and even watch Shane Ray play, I try to sit back and picture my son playing,” William said when asked what it will be like to see Charles suit up in in the NFL, “but I haven’t got to that point yet.”

Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer