Miami Dolphins

Harris wants to be ‘the best.’ And he only wants the best for his disabled mother

Charles Harris is at the very beginning of his pro football journey, one that he hopes will someday end with championships and greatness and riches.

Harris’ body is his moneymaker. His first step is dynamite.

“I feel like I want to be the best,” the rookie defensive end said on Friday.

And who knows? Maybe he will be.

Harris is young and fast and strong in ways that most of us can only dream about.

And in ways that his mother can never be.

That’s because Deborah Clark is in a wheelchair. She suffers from multiple sclerosis, a disabling nervous disease that has attacked her legs. Travel is so difficult for her that Harris stayed home for the draft instead of attending in person. Doing so allowed mother and son to share the moment.

Harris was a grade schooler when he first discovered his mom was sick. He remembers how he found out with vivid detail.

“We were in a car,” Harris recalled Friday while in town for the Dolphins’ three-day rookie minicamp. “We were in the Wal-Mart parking lot. We were going about 20, 25 miles per hour and her foot got stuck.

“And I was like, ‘What do you mean your foot’s stuck?’ She was like, ‘My foot’s stuck. I can’t move it.’ Then I had to put the car in park. It messed up the car. Both of our heads hit the dashboard.”

This is a long way of saying that Harris’ childhood wasn’t typical. Far from it. He learned humility at a young age and it has stuck with him ever since.

“It was pretty hard,” Harris said. “I think it’s more humbling than it is anything else. It taught me how to clean up after people. How to respect my surroundings, how to pick up after myself.”

Harris is the youngest of three children, but as Clark’s condition worsened he often had to be the parent. His dad William is a long-distance truck driver and is always on the go.

Mom’s health today is “OK,” Harris said. “She’s maintaining.”

There is some good news though: Harris can now provide her with the very best care. His contract will pay him nearly $11 million over the next four years. He plans to spend some of his $6 million signing bonus on a big-ticket surprise for his mom.

That’s typical Charles Harris, people close to him would say. The Dolphins were sold on him as a person after a short meeting at the NFL Scouting Combine.

“No discipline problems,” said Lee Allen, who was Harris’ high school coach in suburban Kansas City. “Even to this day, if you talk to him it’s ‘yes sir, no sir.’ 

Allen heard a lot of “no sirs” from Harris early on. Harris fancied himself a basketball player and had no interest in football, much to Allen’s dismay.

“I chased him for two years before he finally came out and played,” Allen said.

And he signed up just to prove to his trash-talking friends he wasn’t soft.

Here’s the fun back story:

It was the first month of his junior year at Lincoln Prep, and Harris somehow wandered into the football team’s pre-game meeting.

Allen wasn’t having it.

“I told everyone who wasn’t on the team that it was for team members only and everyone else had to leave,” Allen said. “He left. His classmates took their moment to laugh and poke fun at him. As he left, walking down the hall, he could hear it.”

What exactly did he hear?

A classmate saying that Harris was too scared to play football.

Harris showed up at the team’s very next practice to prove otherwise.

It was arguably the best decision of his life.

Harris, with no prior formal training, took to football immediately. He was a star in each of his two years in uniform, and Allen convinced him that football, not basketball, was his best chance to make it big.

But first he needed a chance.

Despite his obvious athleticism, most college recruiters saw him as simply too raw to offer a scholarship. Some schools wanted him to walk on — a couple of Division II programs made offers — but Harris was largely overlooked.

“Coming out of high school, I was a zero star,” Harris said. “I know how it feels to be at the bottom.”

Finally, Harris got the break he needed. One school saw his potential: Missouri. The Tigers offered him a scholarship, and he accepted on the spot.

Those other schools that thought they were too good for him? He enjoyed sacking their quarterbacks during his three seasons in uniform. His 18 career sacks are tied for seventh in school history. Harris also recorded  34 1/2 tackles for loss during his college career.

The Dolphins love how he gets off the ball — coach Adam Gase called it “a pretty unique trait” — and can’t wait to pair him with Cameron Wake on passing downs.

But what made him a no-brainer pick at 22 was his character.

“We spent time with him at the Combine and then our scouts do a really good job,” Gase said. “They dig probably better than any group that I’ve been around. … When our scouts put their stamp of approval on a guy, you don’t really question that.”

Harris got that stamp. But if the Dolphins needed any further testimonials, Allen would have happily obliged.

He couldn’t stop raving about Harris during a recent phone conversation.

Why? Even on draft night, Harris was thinking of others.

Allen brought his son Lee Jr. to the draft party. After the Dolphins made their pick, Harris had a bunch of media obligations, the last of which with a local TV station.

“Before the interview, he grabs my son, puts his arm around him and says come do this interview with me,” Allen said. “He could have taken that last moment to bring that spotlight on himself. Instead, he shared it with my son.”

And, of course, his mother.