Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. was nominated as the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner for 2017, an honor that could become even greater were he to join John Elway — who won in 1992, the only Bronco to do so — as the NFL’s overall winner.

That award will be handed out on February 3rd during the ‘NFL Honors’ program prior to the Super Bowl, but winning the award for one’s own team is an honor in and of itself. “I put a lot of time and effort in the community, back home in Tulsa and here [in Denver],” Harris said after Friday’s practice. “I just want to make sure that I can give these kids the best head start in life that they can possibly have. I think it’s a great achievement… My wife [Leah], she puts in a crazy effort, too. It’s not just me receiving this award, it’s her too.”

Harris has worked for charity for years; the former Kansas Jayhawk explained how he took his work in Lawrence with him to Denver — with the help of a certain Bronco legend. “I was actually involved a lot in college. I just had a heart for kids from there. Once I was able to get in the league, I just wanted to expand on it. [Champ Bailey] gave me more motivation with the Denver Rescue Mission — just really helping those homeless people and families right there. I just wanted to take it over for him. A lot of people can relate to my story. Being undrafted and coming in the way I did is a more relatable story. People can feel that a little bit more. It makes it easier for me to have an impact on them.”

As he mentioned, Harris isn’t alone in his endeavors. Harris and his wife, Leah, started the Chris Harris Jr. Foundation in 2012, and have provided underprivileged youth with unique opportunities for success. Regarding Leah’s involvement, Harris pointed out that just because he plays NFL football, that doesn’t mean that his foundation only cares for boys. “It’s huge to have her there as a partner. She affects the girls in the foundation. We just don’t want to affect just boys, so it’s huge to have a woman there that they can get aspirations from too… I told her it’s her award too. She can’t be right here doing the interview right now, but she’s definitely happy. I had to make sure I gave her tons of credit. I can’t be in the dog house!”

“The kids out here, just seeing the kids grow up—we have student success programs. Getting their grades back, taking them to pizza parties and making sure they’re doing chores and things like that, we’re teaching them responsibility early.”

If Harris were to win the national award, he’d be awarded $250,000 for his causes. Already working with the Denver Children’s Home, the Salvation Army, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and collaborating with the Colorado Attorney General’s office to combat domestic violence, and with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock to build mentoring programs for youth, you’d think Harris’ plate is full.

You’d be wrong. Harris knows exactly what he would do with the prize money. “I can continue to expand. There is still a lot more we can do. There are still a lot of ideas that my wife wants to do. We definitely want to open up a center to where we can have a home-based community center. We just want to continue to reach out to thousands of kids everywhere. By doing that, I think people know my heart. My wife and I are really doing it for the kids. Not a lot of kids just do it for the kids. It lets them know what we’re about.”

The NFL, recognizing the value of having its players doing good work for their communities, will recognize it on the playing field, too. Starting this week, Harris and the other 31 winners from each team will wear a Man of the Year helmet decal through the end of the season, in recognition of their accomplishments. The national winner, and every previous winner that’s still active — New Orleans’ Drew Brees (2006), Dallas’ Jason Witten (2012), Carolina’s Thomas Davis (2014), Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and the New York Giants’ Eli Manning (co-winners in 2016) and — will sport a Man of the Year patch on their jersey for the remainder of their careers.

Harris, preparing to face the New York Jets in the midst of an eight-game losing streak for the Broncos, isn’t looking that far ahead, and hasn’t had the chance to look at the list of his colleagues in charity — but he knows what he’ll do when he gets the chance. “I haven’t seen the rest of them around the league yet. I haven’t had time to look at them. I’ll definitely look to see what they’re doing. I’m pretty sure they’re doing some great things.

On a chilly Friday afternoon, Harris broke into a warm grin. “I might try to steal some ideas from them.”


Click here to watch Chris Harris Jr’s media briefing, or click inside the viewer below.

Video courtesy of Denver Broncos Facebook