After the Broncos picked up cornerback Davontae Harris just before the start of the season, he filled in admirably when injuries piled up in Denver's secondary. His first season with the Broncos was full of ups and downs, but it was a good start for the second-year cornerback as he hopes to improve in years to come. Before the season ended, we caught up with him to learn more about his path to the NFL and more.
At a smaller school like Illinois State, did you envision a path to the NFL? And if you did, what did that path kind of look like to you?
"From a standpoint of going into college, did I think of a path to the NFL? The answer would be no, because my goal when I first got to college was just to get my degree and just to do my best at football. You need to play well. I would always be the guy who would go in and grind and who was going to give my best, but I didn't go with a goal or aspirations to go to the NFL. It was just something that transpired from my work."
We've got another Illinois State guy in the locker room in Shelby Harris — did you know of him when you were there?
"He left literally right before I got there, but I knew of him really well. Just knowing his path and him coming to Illinois State and getting to the league the way that he did, I knew of who he was. And then he would come back to Illinois State whenever he had some time off. So I got to know him that way as well. So before I got here, I actually knew him pretty well."
When did you start to think it could happen, that you could go to the next level?
"I would like to say the end of my junior year. I had a bunch of agents call and try to get in contact with me. I didn't really know how the process worked — draft grades and how all that stuff worked — but a bunch of agents called. After I got call after call after call, it kind of made sense to me and it kind of became real. My coach mentioned it to me my sophomore year like, 'Hey, you have an opportunity to go to the league. You have a good build, you're fast, you have all of the tangibles to make it happen.' But I never really took it as real information. I kind of just played my game."
Now that it's your reality, how do you look back on where you came from and understand how it shaped your current approach?
"In some cases and some moments, it's still kind of surreal. But it's one of those things where it's the NFL: Everybody's path is different and everybody's process is different. You can't really take it for granted. How I got here, I can't really take my opportunity here for granted. It's not really me just sitting back and being happy that I'm here. It's me, like, I'm here now. What's next? I need to go work, I need to go find a way to make plays to stay here."
I can tell you're very proud of where you come from, that being Wichita, Kansas. Can you tell me where that pride stems from?
"I think more so just because I know most of my opportunities came from where I'm from. The saying of 'It takes a village to raise a kid,' that was kind of my reality in growing up in Wichita. Everybody always pushed me and always had my back and always kind of helped me in my path. For me, my pride in my city and where I come from is more so [about] the people from my city who helped me get to where I am."
Is it cool seeing your "Wichita Kid" shirts take off with strangers on the internet basically latching on to it?
"Yeah, it is kind of cool to me, just in terms of putting the word out there and being the face of my city in a sense and just putting a positive connotation on what people from my city come from and stand for."
Since being a rookie, what's the biggest thing you've learned about how to approach playing and being in the NFL?
"You've just got to go in with confidence, go in willing to learn. You've really got to go in with the hardhat, lunch-pail mentality and get ready to work, because there's a million guys out there who want the same opportunity, and there's 1,500 guys who already have the opportunity that you've got to compete against. You've just got to go in with a mentality that you've got to go work mentally, physically and all type of other ways."
When you arrived here after being picked up by the Broncos right at the start of the season, what was that like? The challenge of moving across the country at a moment's notice at that time seems like a difficult one.
"It was definitely a process, but I've always had people around me who could look out for me and help me in certain ways when I couldn't be there. So when I came here, my brother was still in Cincinnati. My entire house there, he packed it up and got all that stuff ready and shipped out here. While he was doing that, I was taking care of what I need to take care of here. I just have really good people in my corner who help me with the things outside of football to allow me to focus on what I'm here for."
Have you been able to get around Denver and explore a little bit?
"I have, in terms of eating places. I can't even think of the names. A bunch of them have really crazy names, but I'm huge into eating. I love food, especially brunch and breakfast. I'm a pescatarian, so I always have to search really hard for different places to eat. ... I like it here a lot. I think the city's growing really well, it has really good people here. It's a big city with a small-town feel, and it kind of is a reflection of where I come from. As soon as I got here and interacted with people, it already kind of felt like home."
Chris Harris Jr. has mentioned that he's enjoyed kind of taking a mentorship role with you and loves answering your questions. What's it like having a veteran guy who's one of the top players in the league being willing to take you under his wing?
"You can't ask for anything better than that, especially a young player like me in my position and him being a vet — him really just being willing to answer questions and spend extra time to do basically whatever I need, because he's been to many Pro Bowls, he's been an All-Pro. It would be really easy for him to, when his day is over, just go home. Or like when we're in meetings. It would be easy for him to give me the most basic answer possible just to get the question over with. But I think he really kind of goes out of his way, and even if I don't ask questions, he'll look at me like, Did you see that? And if I didn't see it or if I did see it, he'll explain whatever it was. So I think he does a really good job of coaching me and making sure I'm in a good position."