On April 8, 2015, Tom Klenda and Marquay Ball annouced famed Pro Bowler and Denver Broncos Cornerback, Chris Harris, will be the male recipient of the 2015 Henry P. Iba Citizen Athlete Award. Christopher Harris, Jr. was born in Tulsa. From a very early age it was clear that he was a natural-born athlete. As a student at Bixby High School, he earned all-state honors in both football and basketball, while also earning varsity letters in track. In the end, Harris’ passion and talent in football prevailed and that became his focus as he moved onto college.
Harris played football at the University of Kansas. Although KU is not traditionally known for its football program, Harris managed one of the most successful football careers in school history. He served as team captain his senior year, leading the team to an Orange Bowl victory and earning Defensive Back of the Year honors. By the end of his college career, Harris landed at #2 on the Kansas football all-time tackles list.
Despite a successful college career, Harris was not selected in the NFL draft. He began to realize, that as an underdog if he wanted to play in the NFL, he would need to take his game to the next level. He was more than up for the challenge. He continued to train harder than ever and eventually earned an invitation to the Denver Broncos training camp. Upon joining camp, Harris was not considered by coaches to be a likely candidate to make the team. But once again he worked hard at practice to prove that he deserved to make the team. His performance was good enough to earn him a roster spot and a $2000 signing bonus.
Harris started strong with the Broncos, concluding his rookie season with impressive stats and was voted on Denver’s All-Rookie Team, Breakout Player of the Year and Overachiever of the Year. The next two seasons he put up elite numbers in line with the best defensive backs in the NFL, but was still overlooked and underrated. In the 2014 AFC championship game, Harris tore his ACL and it appeared that the end of his underdog story had finally been written.
However, he was not ready for his story to end. He had surgery and did not miss a single day of rehab to get ready to start the first game of the 2014 season. Miraculously this was the season where he transformed himself from the underrated underdog to the unstoppable “Pitbull” – a nickname his teammates gave him because of his size and tenacity on the field. Harris also solidified his reputation as the smartest corner in the game for the way he meticulously prepared for opposing offenses by studying them for hours on his tablet computer. The season ended with Harris voted All-Pro, receiving his first Pro-Bowl team, and being ranked as the best cornerback in the NFL by the sports statistics agency, Pro Football Focus.
Harris also has many passions off the field. In 2012 he married his college sweetheart Leah. In 2013, he and Leah launched the Chris Harris Jr. Foundation. His inspiration for the foundation was his own underdog story, so the foundation seeks out other underdogs and helps give them rise above their obstacles to achieve greatness. The foundation’s fundamental goal is to support what Harris refers to as “underdogs” through various charitable activities. He holds an annual free football camp for kids called the Underdog Football Academy, has been a national spokesman against domestic violence through DVIS, and his foundation has worked extensively with Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Salvation Army.The Iba Awards were created in 1994 by the Rotary Club of Tulsa to recognize an influential male and a female premiere athlete for their success in their sport, and more importantly, for being positive role models who give back to their communities – not only by donating to worthy causes, but by being personally dedicated and involved in their chosen charities.
The awards are named after Henry P. Iba, former Oklahoma State University basketball coach and coach of three U.S. Olympic basketball teams. He was an unparalleled success as a coach, a leader and a citizen and these awards recognize and honor athletes who best exemplify a high degree of citizenship in his image.