Chiefs tight end Demetrius Harris couldn’t resist temptation. He knew what he was about to do was illegal, but he still couldn’t help himself.
After leaping high and hauling in a touchdown pass from Tyler Bray in practice last week, Harris, a converted college basketball player, soared even higher and slammed the football over the crossbar in a move former Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez made famous.
Starting this season, that celebration will cost a team 15 yards. But not on the practice field at Missouri Western in St. Joseph.
“That was my first time doing it, so I was doing it for the fans,” said Harris, a former Division I basketball player at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “I know I can’t do it in a game, so I was just giving the fans some entertainment. The goal posts are for the fans. I just wanted to surprise them.”
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Harris, a 6-foot-7 power forward in college, gave the fans something to cheer about in the preseason opener against Cincinnati when he got open for a 30-yard completion from Bray on third and 9.
“I was kind of nervous,” Harris said of his first NFL reception, “but I settled down, and was thinking, ‘Act like it was a practice, and don’t go through the motions. Go full speed, and if you mess up, still go full speed.’ I just let myself go.”
Harris spent last season on the Chiefs’ practice squad, and the club was curious how he would perform in a game under the lights, in front of a big crowd and against hard-hitting linebackers and safeties.
“The guys were teasing him a little bit,” said Chiefs tight-ends coach Tom Melvin. “They were saying, ‘OK, you haven’t been tackled by an opponent yet. Your teammates aren’t going to take a shot because you’re going to take care of each other …’
“But he stood up, and shoot, he got 4 yards after contact on that. He’s running hard. … It’s incredible what the young man has done to get himself to this point.”
Harris had an offer to play football and basketball at Arkansas State after graduating from Jacksonville High School in a suburb of Little Rock. Though football was his first love, Harris played two years of basketball at Mineral Area (Mo.) College before transferring to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he was spotted in a game three years ago by Chiefs general manager John Dorsey, who was working for the Packers at the time.
After Dorsey came to Kansas City last year, he placed a call to Harris, who was about to sign a contract to play professional basketball in Europe.
Harris thought someone was pulling a prank.
“It was like, it can’t be real,” Harris said. “It was around April Fools’ Day, and I thought somebody’s got to be playing a trick on me. I’ve got a friend, and he likes to play like that, and I thought it was him. But I said, if someone calls again, he must be serious. I got another call, and football was my first love. The following week I had a tryout.”
Had Harris been ready to play, there would have been an opportunity for him last year, especially after the oft-injured Tony Moeaki was released, third-round draft pick Travis Kelce missed all season because of a knee injury and starter Anthony Fasano missed seven games because of injuries.
“The transformation he made in the offseason,” Melvin said, “from the strength and conditioning part of it, what the strength coaches did with him, and the time he spent catching footballs and running routes, he’s a football player now.”
Harris is aware of the legacy of Gonzalez, as well as the other combo basketball/football players such as Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas.
“I like all of their games,” Harris said. “I’m just trying to grab everything from them and put it into mine and be better.”
Even if he’s listed behind Fasano and Kelce on the depth chart, Harris has carved out a spot for himself on special teams. He made key blocks on both the 65-yard kickoff return by Albert Wilson and De’Anthony Thomas’ 80-yard punt return for a touchdown against Cincinnati.
“I’m way more confident than I was last year,” Harris said. “I don’t want to say cocky, but confident. I know a lot more. Last year I came in and really didn’t know and was second-guessing myself. Now, I’m going out there with confidence and doing everything full speed and know what I’m doing.”