Big Snacks is ready to start feasting.
Last year at this time, Jets nose tackle Damon Harrison was a relative unknown on the roster, a player from tiny NAIA program William Penn who came into rookie minicamp as an undrafted rookie free agent with low expectations. But he stuck around to take part in offseason workouts, training camp and a preseason where he was raw but solid.
Somehow, after roster cuts in late August, Harrison was still on the 53-man roster, four months after he first linked up with the Jets. Now, he’s on the two-deep and could be the starting nose tackle against the Buccaneers in Week 1. For a player given the name “Big Snacks” last year by the coaching staff, it has been a long road to get here.
“I haven’t changed anything from the day that I’ve been here. Still working hard,” Harrison told Metro. “I’ve got the frame of mind that at any time I could be sent home. Because let’s be honest, I could well be.”
Harrison clasps his hands together and pauses.
“This could all be gone. I wasn’t supposed to be here.”
He was supposed to be a depth player a season ago. Most fans assumed he was on the low end of the roster and likely wouldn’t be around beyond a few weeks. But Harrison kept sticking around and started to grow as a player as he honed his technique. But he rarely played in the first part of the season and was inactive for most games.
But he stood on the sidelines in a track suit and watched and waited.
When nose tackle Sione Pouha suffered a lower-back injury, Harrison was finally activated and eventually played in five games. He didn’t register a tackle but that doesn’t matter as he was just on the field. It seemed like he would never get there.
His twisting, turning trip to the NFL started long before last summer or even when he was a standout at tiny William Penn. In high school, Harrison was cut twice from the football team and then was cut by the junior college team before he worked the overnight shift at WalMart. Eventually, through a former coach, he ended up at William Penn in Oskaloosa, Iowa where he ended up being a standout on the interior of the defensive line for the Statesmen.
But success against schools like Waldorf and Marian didn’t exactly register with NFL scouts. Harrison was a virtual unknown before the 2012 NFL Draft.
Yet in his mind, the thought of the NFL was always there, in large part because men who are 6-foot-4 and 333 pounds like Harrison don’t move as well as he does.
Harrison is now making a real push to start over Kenrick Ellis, a third-round pick in 2011. He registered seven tackles and was singled out for praise by head coach Rex Ryan following the Jets’ third game of preseason against the Giants.
It is a dream come true for a player who was penciled in by many as just another training camp hopeful. He even admits that he didn’t see all this coming so soon.
“It didn’t become a reality until my senior year was done and I actually started training for the draft or tryouts or whatever. I didn’t think I’d be here so fast,” Harrison said. “Everyone I heard from said I’d be on the practice squad for two years and be a developmental guy— that I’d have to wait my turn. But that made me work harder because I hate that. I hate when anyone tells me what I can’t do, when they put limitations on my life.
“If you work hard, there are no limits. And that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.