Demetrius Harris' football dreams were all but forgotten in 2012.
The 6-foot-7 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee forward was in the midst of his second and final season with the Panthers basketball team and flirting with breaking double digits in points per game. He was still a few months away from recording his career high of 21 points in a February game against IUPUI and had just set his career mark in rebounds per game with 12 against Jacksonville.
The Jacksonville, Arkansas, native was focused on the hardwood. He had little idea he'd end up earning his living wearing a helmet.
Seven years later, Harris is a new face in a new place yet again. The former all-state dual-sport star has been a Cleveland Brown for just three month, and can thank one man for not only this opportunity, but the first one that landed him in the NFL, too.
That’s John Dorsey, general manager of the Cleveland Browns, who was tipped off to the existence of Harris while on a scouting trip in Arkansas, even though Harris was busy seeking double-doubles in the Horizon League. A local resident was keeping tabs on Harris, who at one time had designs on staying in his home state and playing football for Arkansas State.
That didn't pan out due to his ACT score, which didn't qualify him to accept the full scholarship for which he'd signed at Arkansas State. The turn of events sent him to junior college at Mineral Area Community College before he traveled north to Milwaukee to play basketball, a "second option" that became his first. He was frequently reminded of his former Plan A during this time.
"Seeing my friends that were playing for Arkansas and Auburn and all types of colleges, I used to be like 'dang, I should be -- I used to compete with them,'" Harris recalled recently in an interview with ClevelandBrowns.com. "That's the only time. Other than that, I was just playing basketball."
His athleticism, frame and background qualified him as a deep-dive find with potential for more in an NFL that was seeing more basketball players transition to tight end than ever before. Dorsey decided to investigate and eventually signed Harris as an undrafted free agent when Dorsey was the GM of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013.
Harris traded sneakers for cleats and a helmet, and got to work as a member of Kansas City's practice squad. Football was Plan A once more.
Eventually he landed on the active roster but found himself entrenched behind star tight end Travis Kelce. Again, he'd have to figure out an alternate route to his goal.
Harris spent his entire first season on the practice squad, learning the playbook but more importantly, relearning how to be a football player. Dorsey rode him the entire way.
"Every day, my first year was as a practice guy, I was practice squad," Harris said. "So I mean Dorsey always stayed on me every single day, if it's not just telling me something or messing with me, every day he stayed on me because I was on practice squad. People tend to lose focus when they're on practice squad because they don't do anything and they don't travel and they don't play. He was on me every day, just little things, talking to me, keeping me up and just making sure I'm ready."
The continued attention paid off, with Harris making the Chiefs' 53-man roster in 2014. He appeared in eight games and caught all of three passes for 20 yards but saw action in all 16 games in the following season. He's missed just one game since, recording 54 catches for 585 yards and six touchdowns in his last four seasons.
He's done so while filling a role as a decidedly No. 2 tight end. He wants more than that, so when free agency arrived in March, he decided to follow the man he trusts most in the NFL -- Dorsey -- to Cleveland.
"It shows where the loyalty of me and Dorsey was," Harris said of his signing with the Browns. "We built a good relationship when he first got me. We talked a lot. It was just a relationship with me and Dorsey and it was just like my loyalty went to him because I feel like he's the only one that really, truly believes in me and knows I got another level to my game to step up. It was just more of because I know Dorsey and loyalty."
Harris' stats are misleading because his lack of receptions would lead one to believe he's primarily a blocking tight end. Sure, he can block, but that's not where his greatest value lies. Remember, he was a forward who averaged more than five rebounds per game at 6-foot-7. That height goes much further in the NFL.
It starts with the ability to leap for passes, for which Kelce drew plenty of attention in Kansas City. Harris found his spots in between as a Chief, showing flashes of athleticism that offer a peek into what type of big-play target he could become, but expects those to be more frequent in Cleveland.
So far, he's encouraged by the opportunities presented from a decision driven by the presence of the man who first found him in the great north.
"It's been good, just day to day staying on it. Just keep getting better, showing I can really play," Harris said of his time as a Brown. "Kelce will tell you, he believes I should be a No. 1 tight end. It's kind of frustrating sometimes, but I'm the type of person, I don't care about the spotlight. I'm just like a silent assassin. I just do my work on the field, I work in silence, so I don't be hearing all that other stuff.
"Me and Kelce talk every day and once he knew I came here, he was one of the first calls, like 'let's go! Now it's time. You already know I'm picking you.' So I've just got to keep fighting, show the coaches I can play."
He joins a room that, much like in other parts of the building in Berea, is stocked with talent, starting with former first-round pick David Njoku. There are similarities between the two, though Harris is taller, and he could find himself again in a tight-end tandem. The group doesn't end there, though, with Seth DeValve, Orson Charles, Pharaoh Brown and Stephen Carlson also battling for playing time.
Ascending to his goal of No. 1 tight end will not be an easy task.
It also might not be an immediate one. As with Dorsey's continued focus on adding "competitive depth" across the roster, the tight end group stands to offer multiple weapons for which opposing defense will be required to prepare. Having Njoku and Harris and whomever else at head coach Freddie Kitchens' disposal at the same time could mean headaches for opponents. At that point, title likely won't matter as long as the offense is putting up points.
In the meantime, Harris is digesting Cleveland's playbook and a new set of surroundings. He's found a place to live in suburban Cleveland, and unlike his experience with the Chiefs, feels much more comfortable with the acclimation process. He's also happy to again be under the watchful eye of Dorsey, who he feels knows him best.
"Versatile player, can do it all, all-around player and in his studies, getting better every year, every year as I get more reps, more reps and play more," Harris said when asked to describe how Dorsey views him. "This decision coming with him was kind of a no-brainer."
His goal is simple: Keep improving. And when adversity inevitably presents itself within the games of football and life, he'll be prepared.
"It wasn't a straight line," he said. "I always had to climb my way up to the top, and I'm not even at the top yet. Just keep working and keep working with a chip on my shoulder. Keep getting better and competing and show around the league that I can really go."