Former Southern Regional Standout Clark Harris Heads Back to Cincinnati for 10th NFL Season

By DAVID BIGGY | Aug 02, 2017
Courtesy of: Cincinnati Bengals Manahawkin resident and former Southern Regional High School football player Clark Harris is heading into his 10th season in the NFL and ninth with the Cincinnati Bengals.

For the first time in many years, Clark Harris didn’t cast a line from a fishing rod this summer. Instead, at least for a season, he traded in striper fishing on the Atlantic Ocean for wakeboarding in Barnegat Bay.

“We finally bought a boat of our own. My wife got it for me – a 25-foot Cobalt,” said Harris, who late last week left Manahawkin for Cincinnati as training camp loomed. “I spent most of the summer wakeboarding. Turtle Cove is a nice spot, but the greenheads are awful.”

Of course, when your full-time job consists of playing professional football and training camp begins at the end of July, summer doesn’t last long.

“Summer’s too short,” Harris said. “That’s about my only complaint.”

Otherwise, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Bengals long snapper isn’t complaining about anything. Harris is entering his 10th season in the NFL and set to make about a million bucks doing it. Considering the average player lasts less than five years in the NFL, he knows he’s been blessed.

“I feel great. At 33 years old, I’m still playing a game for a living,” said Harris, who celebrated his birthday a few weeks ago. “I don’t get hit very often, so my body is still in good shape. It’s a great deal for me. And if I can still be on the field at 40, that would be awesome.”

That very well could happen. When Harris was drafted by the Green Bay Packers during the seventh round of the 2007 draft, he was hoping to break into the NFL as a tight end – the position he had played at both Southern Regional High School and Rutgers University. But after a stint on the Packers’ practice squad, Harris was dealt to the Houston Texans, where he again remained on the practice squad through much of the 2008 season, playing in just four games. He was then sent to Cincinnati.

During his time at Rutgers he also had taken up a role as a long snapper, and that skill ultimately paid off. When Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons sought to replace then-long snapper Brad St. Louis because of too many high snaps that resulted in a handful of field-goal and extra-point snafus, Harris got the call. He’s been the long snapper for 120 of the 128 regular-season games, along with a half-dozen playoff games, since the 2009 season.

“Coming out of college, I didn’t hate long-snapping,” said Harris, who as a young teenager more had his sights set on a possible career playing basketball in the NBA, and got turned on to football only once he arrived at Southern. “I played football, and the goal was to play in the NFL. But, definitely, I wanted to be a tight end in the NFL. I wasn’t thinking long-snapping. But God gifted me with a particular ability that worked out to my benefit, and eventually I found a place on the field.”

He’s definitely found a home as a special-teams player in Bengals Country. In fact, from 2009 through 2015, he played in 116 consecutive games and had no unplayable snaps – a total of 1,068 (561 punts and 508 place kicks) – and last season registered the most tackles during special teams play in his career.

“If you don’t know the intricacies of football, it looks like what I do is really easy,” Harris said. “But we do a lot of work in practice. We don’t as much as some of the other guys on the field. But between me and the kickers and punters, we’re just as focused on doing everything right and being the best we can with what we do.”

With this season being the last on his current, five-year deal with the Bengals, Harris is slated to become an unrestricted free agent come January.  But because he’s a homebody kind of guy, he’s hopeful he’ll get to stay in Cincinnati for the remainder of his career, however long that turns out to be.

“When I first got to Cincinnati, the city was a little rough, but it’s blossomed really well since then,” he said. “Internally, top to bottom, I’ve never butt heads with anybody. The owner, Mike Brown, has always stood by me and treated me well. Everything is on the up and up within the organization, and for me it’s a great place to be.”

Ever the personable guy, Harris enjoys not only the game, but also the interaction with the fans, even on Game Day.

“I like getting the fans involved,” he said. “After warmups, we usually have a little time to hang out on the sidelines, so I often go over to the fans and talk a bit. They’re paying my salary, really, so I try to make myself available to them in some way, especially the kids. They may not know my name – I’m not A.J. Green – but they know I’m a pro football player, and if I can use the pedestal I’ve been given to brighten a kid’s day somehow, whether it’s signing an autograph or giving out a ball, that’s a good thing.”

Obviously, enjoying the game and fans is part of Harris’ delight, but he also would love to play in a Super Bowl someday. Since he’s been with the team, the Bengals haven’t been past the Wild Card round. But knowing what a playoff atmosphere is like, Harris said he’s interested to see what it would be if the Bengals were to go deeper in the playoffs during the next few years.

“Every game matters in the NFL, and that’s one thing I love about it,” he said. “But come playoff time, there’s a whole different sense of atmosphere the whole week before a game. You’re more focused, more intense. Everything around the city is ramped up, and the fans get really fired up at that point. That’s when things get really fun.”

biggy@thesandpaper.net

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.