'I got a real chip on my shoulder': N'Keal Harry hopes to use size, mindset in fresh start with Bears
When he was a freshman in high school, new Bears wide receiver N'Keal Harry was hoping to emulate Kobe Bryant -- his idol growing up -- and become a standout basketball player.
But a few incredulous classmates took one look at the tall, rock-solid Harris and changed the course of his life by remarking: "Yo. You're too big to not be playing football!"
"OK," thought Harry. "I'll play."
He showed up a week before the season started, was inserted in the lineup and scored all three touchdowns for the freshmen team in its opening game.
"And the rest is history," said Harry, who went on to star at Arizona State University and was drafted 32nd overall by New England in 2019.
Recent history hasn't been kind to him, but the soft-spoken Harry is hoping to make the most of a second opportunity after three disappointing seasons with the Patriots.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Harry came to the Bears via trade in July and is attempting to stand out in a crowded wide receiver room that includes castoffs like Equanimeous St. Brown (Packers), Byron Pringle (Chiefs), David Moore (Seahawks) and Dante Pettis (Giants).
He certainly made a big first impression on rookie Velus Jones Jr. and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.
"Man, he's like (one of) them Greek god structures," Jones said. "I would say like a Hercules."
Said Getsy: "You read about a guy and you're in the draft process and all that stuff, but when he gets in front of you you're like, 'Whoa. He's a big, thick dude.' I mean he's an impressive guy, but I'm even more impressed with his mentality (and) how he came in here."
Which is to adopt the attitude that he has what it takes to be a true difference maker in the NFL.
"I got a real chip on my shoulder," Harry said. "I'm looking to come in and do anything I can to help this team win."
Harry's career never got on track with New England as he managed just 57 catches for 598 yards across three seasons while also missing 15 games due to injuries.
One bright spot came at the beginning of the 2020 campaign as Harry hauled in 13 passes for 111 yards (on 18 targets) in New England's first two games. He did next to nothing in the next three contests, though, then suffered a concussion in a Week 6 loss to the 49ers.
"After that my reps weren't the same," Harry said. "I'm really not sure why. ... I didn't see the field as much and it became harder to get out there and make plays. It was just a difficult time."
So difficult that Harry asked to be traded before last season. That request wasn't granted, however, and he ended up catching just 12 passes from rookie QB Mac Jones.
Blessed with a fresh start in Chicago, Harry is hoping to prove himself in a run-oriented scheme that should suit his skill set much better.
One of the knocks on Harry is that he's unable to separate from cornerbacks. The 24-year-old didn't dispute that, but is hoping quarterback Justin Fields and the coaching staff understand he doesn't have to be wide open to make key plays.
"Even coming out of (college) I wasn't a huge separation guy," Harry said. "I don't feel like I need a whole lot of separation.
"I'm a bigger guy. I need to use that to my advantage, box guys out and be that big body that guys can just throw it to and trust I'm coming down with it."
Harry is looking at 2022 as a "do-or-die" year for his professional life. He took his off-season training to another level by working with Jason Fulco, who has helped many professional athletes by using unorthodox methods to "train the brain."
Fulco made Harry catch two tennis balls at nearly the same time and then asked him which one had an 'X' on it. Harry would do this up to 100 times, with balls flying at him in rapid succession.
"It's strenuous on your mind," said Harry, who believes the exercise will keep him sharper in the waning moments of a game. "When you're in a two-minute drill you start to get tired. It's easy to forget stuff and (it puts) a lot of strain on your brain."
Harris, who is one of nine children, moved from St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean to Arizona with his grandmother when he was 4 years old. She brought him to this country to take advantage of better opportunities, although she didn't approve of football at first.
Now, this may be Harry's last NFL opportunity. He has had a decent camp thus far and made an impressive 17-yard catch to get the offense in field-goal range during an end-of-half drill Wednesday.
We'll see soon enough if Harry can build on that, make the team and become a focal point in the offense.
It would be sweet redemption -- not just for himself, but for everyone in his corner.
"It's proving everybody who believes in me right -- my family, my fans, my coaches -- just everybody who's going to bat for me and knows what I can do, including myself," Harry said. "It's for those people."
N'Keal Harry's statisticsYear, Team Rec. Yds. TD
2019, Patriots 12 105 2
2020, Patriots 33 309 2
2021, Patriots 12 184 0
Totals 57 598 4