In the process of balancing everything, tunnel vision endured. That focus paid off as Harris received multiple offers in track; yet Harris didn’t receive a single football offer because his grades and SAT scores were too low.

“We were being told that he was going to have to go into community college and get X-amount of credits and then try to transfer to another school,” Higgins said. “So, he wasn’t even going into a school for football, which was the picture in our mind. It just wasn’t happening like that, and I could see the look on his face when he realized it was not going to happen.”

Then Harris received an academic admissions letter in the mail from California University of Pennsylvania (CALU). Higgins asked Harris, “What about this school? We just received a letter in the mail inviting you to come up and visit their school. Do they have a football team?”

“Well yeah they do, a real good one actually,” Harris replied.

Harris attended a Penn State University football camp with his grandfather that same year, hoping an opportunity would arise. It never worked out that way. With opportunities diminishing for Harris, Higgins decided to gather all the football clips she could find and wrote a 2-and-a-half-page letter to then CALU head coach John Lockhardt to further support Erik’s opportunity to join the team.

“We didn’t know a lot about him,” Lockhardt said. “He had all the credentials. We looked at the film and he was an outstanding player. We got the letter a little late, so we had already expended our scholarship money, but we encouraged him to come. We said we’d be very fair with him and if he did what we thought he could do, then we’d scholarship him.”

Harris would agree to join CALU as a walk-on but making the football team wasn’t his only concern. During his first year in college, Theresa, Erik and three other people got into a car accident right outside of CALU, hospitalizing Theresa due to brain injuries.

“It was a lot you know,” Harris said. “My girlfriend at the time, now my wife we went through a lot. I would say she definitely suffered a lot more from a health standpoint having seizures and short-term memory loss. It threw her off. It threw her college courses and path off, so it was definitely a scary moment for us, but I think in the end it brought us closer.”

The heaviness from everything started to weigh Harris down. From thinking about his girlfriend to trying to earn a full scholarship on the team football team, it was a stressful time for him.

Despite what transpired, Harris credits his wife for being the staple and glue for him and his life as he chased his football dream.

“I feel like I relate to my wife as she is one of the ones in the trenches. She doesn’t get all the highlights but she’s the one keeping it all together.” Harris said.

“We always get the highlights, right? It’s like quarterbacks and receivers, they get highlighted but the guys in the trenches are the ones that kind of get overlooked.”

During that time when Harris was climbing his way up the ladder at CALU, Theresa played a pivotal role in keeping him centered. Harris came in and established himself early amongst a secondary that featured Tommie Campbell, Rontez Miles, and Terrence Johnson who also played in the NFL after CALU.

“The thing that I liked about him is that he could come up to be the strong safety and play in the box, but he also could play deep in Cover 2 or Man 2 and range for the ball,” Luckhardt said.

Harris didn’t earn a scholarship until his second year at CALU, after leading the team in special teams tackles during his freshman campaign.

“He was thrilled that we recognized who he was, what he was doing, and how happy we were for him and how happy he was for his family,” Lockhardt said.

In his four years at CALU, Harris tallied 231 tackles, nine interceptions, six sacks and was second-team all-conference at the conclusion of his senior season. Harris decided to take his final two semesters off to train for the NFL Draft, however; things didn’t go as he planned.

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