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UB's Demone Harris dreams big, lands free-agent deal with Buccaneers

Demone Harris’ remarkable ascension has reached the NFL.

Nobody told him to expect anything less.

Harris, a 6-foot-4, 272-pound defensive end from the University at Buffalo, signed Monday with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent.

“When I first started playing, I always envisioned myself possibly getting to this moment,” Harris said Monday.

That’s not unlike any number of youth football players. The difference with Harris is he didn’t start playing until his junior year at Bishop-Timon St. Jude – never once even putting on pads before that. Despite making just eight starts in high school, Harris earned preferred walk-on status at UB. After redshirting in 2013 and playing sparingly in 2014, he became a starter for his final three college seasons.

“I would just say my resolve. I've been through a lot of things in my life,” he said of taking that unlikely path to the NFL. “I have really humble beginnings. It's really been a process. Every day is a stepping stone, so I've always thought in the now. I've always thought about winning today. With that mindset, I feel like that's what has got me to this point.”

Harris was a nominee for the 2017 Burlsworth Trophy, which is given to the most outstanding football player in the nation who began his career as a walk-on. He had a career-high five sacks as a senior and finished his college career with 9.5 sacks, 59 tackles and five forced fumbles.

“I thought he deserved to get drafted,” said UB defensive tackles coach Tim Edwards, Harris’ position coach the past three years, “but I'm just happy that he got a chance to go to Tampa. I see him working as hard as possible down there.”

There was a part of Harris that was expecting a phone call on the third day of the draft. The other part, though, was accustomed to being overlooked.

“I was told there was a very, very good chance” of being drafted, he said. “Unfortunately it didn't happen, but I'm used to coming in with a chip on my shoulder, just like I did coming out of high school. I'm grateful for the opportunity, but at the same time, I'm walking into this league with a chip on my shoulder.”

Harris solidified himself as an NFL prospect by running a 4.77-second 40-yard dash at UB's Pro Day. He ran a 4.4 in the 20-yard shuttle with a vertical jump of 32.5 inches and broad jump of 10 feet, 1 inch.

That performance was in front of Buccaneers scout Andre Forde, a former UB receiver. Harris didn’t know at the time Forde is a former Bull, but came away from their conversation feeling like the Buccaneers could be a home.

“They seemed like they really wanted me,” he said. “I had a couple other offers from different teams. The Giants, Lions and Broncos were interested, but after talking with the Tampa Bay scout, I felt like I wanted to be there. I think I was one of the first free agents to sign after the draft.”

Harris expects to play 4-3 defensive end for the Buccaneers, the same job he held with the Bulls.

“He's a blue-collar type guy,” Edwards said. “He's not all that flashy, his stats might not look all that great, but he's just dependable. He's got explosive strength and he's smart.”

The Bucs didn’t draft any defensive ends, which makes Harris optimistic.

“I think I have a very good chance to make that team,” he said. “It's a dream come true. Not many people get this opportunity. I'm just excited and thrilled and honestly blessed.”

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