Maurice Harris patiently waited on the sidelines for his opportunity at the University of California, Berkeley. Coming off the bench as a freshman, it wasn't until the sixth game of Harris’ sophomore season where he had the chance to start.
Working his way into the NFL with a similar path from practice squad to active roster twice now, the third-year veteran wants to prove that he can become a heavier contributor in the Redskins’ passing game.
“Just being the underdog [is adversity],” Harris said. “I wasn’t drafted. Even in college, I wasn’t a starter every time. You have to keep pushing and keep fighting and never give up.”
Even though Harris caught nine passes for 99 yards in his final four games as a freshman, he still needed to make himself known on Cal's roster. Sonny Dykes, who is now the head coach at SMU, took over the Cal football program after the 2012 season and the Northern Guilford (N.C.) High School product had to convince him that he could be a pivotal part in the offense.
When Cal lost three in a row in 2013, Dykes put Harris in as a starter for the first time of his career against no. 11 UCLA. After earning six more starts as a junior, the 6-foot-3 wide receiver established himself as someone who could become a reliable starter while making attention-grabbing plays.
During his senior season, Harris snagged 81 receptions for 1,009 yards receiving and 10 touchdown catches, half of his career totals while with the Golden Bears. He capped off his career earning SportsCenter's No. 4 Catch of the Day for an acrobatic reception against Air Force in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.
While Harris showed college football that he was talented, his senior season demonstrated that he could seize the moment when the coaches called on him.
“Whenever my number is called I just try to go out there and do the best I can and do the best to help the team,” Harris said. “I just continue to do that and continue to work.”
Harris had to carry the mentality of validating himself in practice to earn playing time when he reached the NFL. After being assigned to the Redskins’ practice squad on Sept. 4, 2016, he was promoted to the active roster one month later.
While he was particularly productive in the third down situations his rookie year, Harris once again started the next season on the practice squad. In Week 10 last year when he was called up again, the 25-year-old made a one-handed grab against the Minnesota Vikings for a touchdown.
Carrying that momentum into offseason workouts has put Harris on notice with the coaching staff, who are looking to find rhythm with new quarterback Alex Smith.
“Mo Harris, Brian Quick and even some of the younger guys are making plays,” wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard said. “I think the confidence from the quarterback to throw the ball out there in those 1-on-1 opportunity long situations and seeing the guys coming down with those plays is real gratifying so far and hopefully we can continue to do that.”
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The Greensboro, N.C., native received more opportunities to show how he can be a key member of the system during the Redskins’ offseason workouts. Not only has Harris had the opportunity to make catches during team activities and in 7-on-7 drills, he got reps on special teams during the team’s mini-camp last week.
While Harris is still writing his professional football story, he knows that the road to get to the NFL has been defined by making the most of his moments.
“I definitely think [the hard work] has paid off,” Harris said. “I try to go hard every play, every down. It’s definitely paid off. I’m thankful to be here and blessed.”