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After earning his way, Shelby Harris makes play on national stage

Posted Sep 12, 2017

There's a reason his coach and teammates weren't surprised at the play he made.

DENVER — You know Shelby Harris’ name now.

You know his name now that he blocked a potential game-tying field goal for the Los Angeles Chargers and saved an opening-night victory for the Broncos.

His coaches and teammates sang his praises Monday night — and for good reason. The third-year player made the game-changing play during his first career start.

As Younghoe Koo prepared for his second attempt at a 44-yard field goal — Head Coach Vance Joseph called a timeout moments before his first try — it appeared the Broncos would squander a 17-point fourth quarter lead. But Harris cut through the Chargers’ line and got three fingers on the ball.

Those three fingers will hurt Tuesday, Harris said, but adrenaline was the only antidote he needed Monday night after the Broncos relived an eerily similar ending to last year’s 21-20 season opener over the Carolina Panthers.

“You’re just like, ‘Man, we just won the game. I think we won the game,’” Harris said. “And then when everyone starts going crazy, it’s like, ‘I just won the game.’”

And that was far better than the alternative for the other 52 players in the locker room after the game.

“I was just happy,” cornerback Aqib Talib said. “It was crucial; a division game. We know all of these division games are super important, so it was a real crucial game. It was a huge play by Shelby.”

So yes, after Monday night’s performance, more than a few people will hear about about Harris for the first time.

But the guys inside the building? They’ve known him for quite a while.

“Shelby has earned his way from the first day of OTAs to training camp,” Joseph said. “Through the preseason games, he’s earned his way. It’s the perfect example of a guy coming into camp and having an outside chance of making the football team, but he really earned his way.”

Were a player like Derek Wolfe to make the play Harris made Monday night, it would have been impressive. And indeed, Harris said Wolfe played a pivotal role in the field goal block.

But for Harris to make it? Downright remarkable.

Consider that Harris joined the Broncos in January after signing a reserve/future contract.

Consider that Harris, after being drafted in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL draft, was waived four times by the Oakland Raiders, once by the New York Jets and was released by the Dallas Cowboys.

For most NFL players, that would mean the end of their career.

Instead, Harris came to Denver, where he faced long odds to make a roster just 18 months removed from a Super Bowl 50 victory.

With second-round pick Adam Gotsis and free-agent signee Zach Kerr also fighting for playing time, Harris could have easily been the odd man out.

But Harris just continued to make plays until he was too valuable to release.

In four preseason games, he recorded 11 tackles — eight of which were solo efforts — three sacks, one pass defensed and two fumble recoveries.

That caught the attention of his teammates.

“He continues to make plays, and it doesn’t matter if it’s third down, second down or first down,” Von Miller said. “We had [DE] Zach Kerr and [DE] Jared Crick out, and he stepped up and made plays for us.

“Those are the stories you want to hear about a guy like Shelby coming in here and fighting his way on the team. Fighting his way until the starting role and fighting his way into a big-time role player on this year.”

If Monday’s game was any indication, Shelby Harris could stick around for a while.