Charles Harris has a team-leading and career-high six sacks for the Detroit Lions this season. He sat down with the Free Press for this week's question-and-answer series.
Some questions and answers are edited for clarity and brevity.
Who is your biggest inspiration and why?
It ain't that hard to think about. My biggest inspiration is my mother (Deborah Clark). She's my big inspiration. Just daily, every time you call her, anybody needs something from her or just need somebody to talk to, she's always available, she's always in good spirts. Even when she's down, sometimes I'll ask her, "Are you OK?" And she'll be like, "Yeah, I'm good," and before you know it she's right back up in terms of being in good spirts and happy and what not. I would definitely say my mother is my big inspiration.
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She has multiple sclerosis, right? I know that's been a big thing for you to support during your career.
Yeah, so she has multiple sclerosis and it's to the point where it's pretty progressive. It's like, every day she kind of can't really get out the bed, so it just makes you think about the small things in life like being able to brush your teeth or, "Oh, I want something to eat. I'm going to go grab something to eat." Or, "I want to put on my new shoes today." The simple things that we take for granted — I'm not going to say everybody, but that we as people don't really think about the small things that we're grateful for. It definitely allows you or makes you have a heart of gratitude, just being one of her children.
Is she able to make it to any of your games?
Nah. So they live in Georgia right now. When I first got in the league, they were all staying in Kansas City and then I was able to move them down to Georgia to be with my other family, so they can have more help. My mother and my grandparents. My mom, it's to the point where she can't really travel, she can't stay up for long, so I've thought about all kind of ways to get her to a game, private jets, escort, all that other stuff but it's just not that feasible currently. It's just looking to the future, maybe one day I can make it happen. I'm still looking at MS research and different technologies and innovations. So it's slow and progressive, but eventually I know that there'll be a way.
Has she seen you play in the NFL?
She was supposed to. Well, we had everything orchestrated out. When I was playing in Atlanta, I had a lot of (chances) for her to be at the game, but it's one of those things with MS, you just never know. When she was on the way, she had to turn back around so she didn't be able to go, but it was set up to where she would be able to go. But in the moment, it kind of caught up to her.
If she hasn't seen you play, how do you honor her and keep her close on game days?
It's not even just gameday, it's every day for me, personally. I think a lot of times I be quiet or whatever, but sometimes I be thinking about her. Everybody's got their own job and sometimes you don't want to do something or you might feel a certain way, but sometimes I go into a reserved space where I just think about like, man, you should be grateful to be in this position at this time, doing this job. Like they always say, you never know if it's your last play so that's just something I take to heart. And like I said, I know sometimes a lot of people think I'm reserved or quiet, but it's like sometimes I be thinking. Sometimes I space out, but that's just the nature of the game.
But, yeah, on game day itself, back when I wouldn't get fined for it, I used to write her name (on my tape or wrist bands). Every time I do "My Cause, My Cleats," I support the MS society, or I do donations and stuff like that. This year and last year, I did diabetes because that's becoming more prevalent in my family as well. Like I said, I just try to honor her by being her child, being somebody that if you ask this person, that person, how is he as a man or how is he as a person? They can't have nothing bad to speak on me. I think that's the biggest way I can honor her is just daily, being. a good husband, being a good father, being a good friend, stuff like that.
All right, I don't know if I read this right, but you didn't start playing organized football until your junior year of high school?
Yeah, so I started playing my junior, and even when I was playing my junior year I still didn't really figure it out. I was just out there, just go cover this person, go run to the ball. So it was kind of like rat ball for me. But I really, really started playing my senior year. That's when they were like, "OK, you're on this side, you're doing this job and this is how you take on a block. This is how you run around somebody and dip."
How'd you get into it?
It was basically, I ain't going to say tricked, but I was embarrassed into it. So my junior year about that time, the lady I was with, she was like the manager of the football team and I was with her, and I went to the coach's car to get some stuff for coach. And I walked into the room behind her and I didn't know the whole team was in there. And the coach was like — he always called me Charlie Harris, just in general. He's like, "Dang, Charlie, what you doing here?" I was like, "Oh, no, I'm just with her." He's like, "Oh, I thought you was here to play football." And that's when somebody on the team was like, "Nah, he's too scared." And everybody started laughing. And I'm just like, "Dog, they just embarrassed me in front of my girl."
"So that just took a shot to me and we walked out the classroom and she was like, "You ain't got to prove nothing to them. Don't worry about them." I said, "Nah, I'm going to go play football tomorrow." And then I went out there the next day and Coach was like, "What are you doing here?" I said, "I'm here to play football." He was like, "Man, stop playing with me." I was like, "I'm serious. I'm here to play football." I remember the first day of practice, I think for like two days I couldn't have pads on, and I was out there just running and we had sprints at the end. After we went through drills, we had sprints. I remember I just had so much energy. I was just running, running, running. He was like, "All right, we got another sprint." Everybody else was like, "Ah, man." And I lined up, I said, "Let's go." I just had energy all day, and from that day on, that's when Coach was like, "Man, if that's all it took for me to laugh at you to start playing football, I would have laughed at you a long time ago. 'Cause he wanted me to play since my freshman year, but I was like, "No, I'm a basketball player."
I asked you that really to get to this: A lot of kids now specialize in a sport at a really young age. Their parents have scholarship dreams for their kids or whatever. How do you view that dynamic of one-sport vs. multiple-sport athletes and when you should start playing football?
It's crazy you said that because, I'm kind of off topic, but when I was doing my recovery and treatment down in Florida, that's a big state for young athletes and I just seen so many kids come in with different injuries at such a young age. ACLs, MCLs, shoulder, rotators, and they're 12, 13 years old and it's like, "What?"
But I definitely think, cause I have a child as well, I'm exposing her to sports I never even got exposed to. Soccer, baseball, even gymnastics. I'm going to put my daughter in gymnastics this offseason. Just things that I never got exposed to because you kind of get rooted or filtered into like, these are the sports your household. As African-Americans, for the most part it's basketball or football. So I personally believe that parents should do the best to allow your child to have multi-sport endeavors because you never know what skills can be compatible with that specific sport.
I definitely feel like kids should not be filtered into "you've got to do this, you've got to do that," especially if your parents play a certain sport because just because your parents play a certain sport doesn't mean you're going to be good at it but you might have the skill set that can be compatible to another sport. So be a multi-sport athlete. When you're in middle school, when you're in high school, it's not about being the best X, Y, Z, it's just about being the best athlete.
OK, so different topic. Christmas is next week. NFL players, I assume, have to be tough to shop for. You make good money, you have access to different things. So when somebody asks you what do you want for Christmas, what's your answer?
So I'm not going to say I'm different, but I'm unique in terms of like receiving and even giving gifts. So for example, last year for Christmas we did a secret Santa — actually, two years ago, we did a secret Santa in Miami and we had to buy each other gifts, and I end up buying one of my fellow defensive ends, I got him like an entire recovery set. Like, the boots, a Theragun before Theragun became a thing. YogaToes. Like, sleeping shorts, compressions that could help your body recover. I got him everything you could possibly need.
He wasn't like a high-class, luxury type of player where he liked new shoes or like name-brand stuff like that. He was like, "Bro, this is the dopest gift. This is something I'm actually going to use." That's kind of how I am. I'm one of those individuals where if you're going to get me something, give me something I'll actually use. For example, like my wife, she asked me what I want for my birthday or something. I was like, give me some tools. Give me some hammers. Give me some new carpets for my truck. Or help me buy like an exhaust or something for my truck. It's just, I'm more of like simple things that I'm actually going to use versus like name-brand clothes, shoes. I don't know if we're doing it this year as a team, but even if we did, if somebody bought me like a $500 bottle of wine or like a $2,000 pair of shoes, I'd be like, "Thank you. I don't even know what to do with this." I might put them in the closet, they're going to be up there forever. Like you said, it's hard to shop for us because it's the simple things we want, but at the same time the simple things are usually the most practical things.
Two last ones: How much pressure did you feel as a first-round pick, and how did you manage that pressure?
I didn't feel too much pressure being a first-round pick. I think the reason why I didn't is cause it was like one of those things where I set my mind up to be a first-round pick, like really my last year in college I was kind of like, "OK, I'm going to go first round." I made up my mind to do it. And one of my homeboys, my closest friends, was like, "All right, bro, you can do it. Let's do it." And that entire year I just worked to where I'm like, "Yeah, I'm going to be first round." Before that I was hearing like third round, second round, that kind of stuff. I was like, "No, I'm first-round material. Forget that." So I just really set my sights to do that.
And then when I became a first-round pick, I was elated for it, I was happy for it but I knew that it was going to take even more work to be even better and I think that's something I just did. I really worked as hard as I possibly could on and off the field, and I think that's why I'm here today. The numbers statistically didn't match or whatever the case may be, but character-wise in terms of is he on time? Is he actually working out? Does he practice hard? Does he do all the other things? It's all there, it's just a matter of it translating and I think obviously now I feel like I understand the game a lot more.
Well, it's starting to translate this year. Last one, what's on your pregame play list?
See, that's an interesting one because like I said, I'm unique, so sometimes it's changing. I don't really have a set I listen to. I'm really big on, like, arousal level. Like, if I'm really low right now, then I don't want to listen to no slow, chill, melody type stuff. I need to counteract it with more up-tempo type of music. But in general, Sundays, I usually watch the Word. My wife, she sends me like the online link to our church. We watch the Word. And then from there, it's just a matter of how I feel. If I'm pumped up enough from the Word itself, like it was a fiery speech, then I'm good. Like, I don't even need music. I'll probably listen to praise and worship to just mellow out. But if I'm still kind of down after that, then I'll throw on some hip-hop. Really just hip-hop, but usually it's like old stuff, stuff I had my rookie year.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: How Detroit Lions DE Charles Harris got embarrassed into football