Har­ris is team’s Man of the Year

Cor­ner­back saluted for his char­i­ta­ble con­tri­bu­tions

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nicki Jhab­vala Nicki Jhab­vala: njhab­vala@den­ver­post.com or @Nick­iJhab­vala

The day af­ter the Bron­cos re­turned from Buf­falo, where they took their first loss of the sea­son, cor­ner­back Chris Har­ris hosted a coat drive at a lo­cal steak­house to ben­e­fit Den­ver Chil­dren’s Home, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that helps kids who have sur­vived trauma and abuse con­front men­tal health chal­lenges. Joined by some of his team­mates, Har­ris raised nearly $6,000 that Septem­ber evening and watched as nearly 350 win­ter coats and mul­ti­ple pairs of boots were stacked high for those in need.

“They never have win­ter clothes, so I just thought this would be a great op­por­tu­nity to have some­thing for them, to be able to pro­vide them, mostly the home­less, warm clothes by the time win­ter comes,” Har­ris said at the time. “It’s some­thing that is very needed, so I’ll def­i­nitely try to do it ev­ery year.”

The day af­ter the Bron­cos re­turned from Mi­ami, where they took their ninth and ar­guably worst loss of the sea­son this past week­end, Har­ris joined nearly 100 fam­i­lies at the Den­ver Res­cue Mis­sion for their an­nual hol­i­day party. The ini­tia­tive was once led by former Bron­cos cor­ner­back Champ Bai­ley. Har­ris has car­ried the torch.

“He per­son­ally told me to take over and con­tinue to up­lift these peo­ple as much as pos­si­ble,” Har­ris said. “This is one of the best turnouts I think we’ve had here. We had a lot of team­mates join this time, and it’s good see­ing fa­mil­iar peo­ple.”

Thurs­day, Har­ris’ years of lead­er­ship on the field and in the com­mu­nity were rec­og­nized by the Bron­cos, who se­lected him as their 2017 Wal­ter Pay­ton Man of the Year. He and the 31 other se­lec­tions by NFL teams will be up for the pres­ti­gious na­tional award an­nounced Feb. 3, be­fore Su­per Bowl LII in Min­neapo­lis.

Over the years Har­ris has made a habit of match­ing his on-field feats with off-field con­tri­bu­tions in Den­ver and Tulsa, Okla., his home­town. In 2012, Har­ris launched the Chris Har­ris Jr. Foun­da­tion to pro­vide un­der­priv­i­leged youth op­por­tu­ni­ties to achieve their goals. His an­nual Un­der­dog Acad­emy Foot­ball and Cheer Camp in Tulsa has helped young ath­letes learn the fun­da­men­tals of the game, while his Un­der­dog Suc­cess Pro­gram has helped stu­dents in the class­room.

Lo­cally, he has part­nered with many or­ga­ni­za­tions — the Den­ver Res­cue Mis­sion, Den­ver Chil­dren’s Home and lo­cal chap­ters of Sal­va­tion Army and Big Broth­ers Big Sis­ters of Amer­ica — and this past sum­mer he joined Mayor Michael Han­cock to launch Men­tor Colorado’s #Men­tor­ingFlipped cam­paign to im­prove the num­ber of men­tor­ing re­la­tion­ships for young peo­ple.

Har­ris has also been a part of na­tional and lo­cal cam­paigns to speak out against do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and to go be­yond rais­ing pub­lic aware­ness to effect longterm change in pre­vent­ing relationship vi­o­lence. In 2015 and 2016, Har­ris re­ceived the Bron­cos’ Com­mu­nity Am­bas­sador Awards for his help with team ini­tia­tives, and in 2013 he was se­lected by lo­cal me­dia as the team’s Dar­rent Wil­liams Good Guy Award.

“Chris is a team guy. His role on our team is as a leader and as a play­maker,” coach Vance Joseph said. “It’s un­be­liev­able the things he’s done in the com­mu­nity. He takes pride in that. And he doesn’t do it for the awards or the at­ten­tion. He does it be­cause he cares about the com­mu­nity and the kids in the com­mu­nity. He’s al­ways push­ing his team­mates to do more and more in the com­mu­nity, and that’s a spe­cial guy to have in your locker room.”

The win­ner of the leaguewide Wal­ter Pay­ton Man of the Year award will re­ceive a $500,000 char­i­ta­ble con­tri­bu­tion — $250,000 in his name to ex­pand Char­ac­ter Play­book, the NFL’s dig­i­tal ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram, and an­other $250,000 for the char­ity of his choice.

John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Bron­cos cor­ner­back Chris Har­ris chats with Kaleal Pride, 14, as they dec­o­rate gin­ger­bread cook­ies at a Den­ver Res­cue Mis­sion hol­i­day char­ity event this week.

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