Football journey: Dwayne Harris

IRVING, Texas -- When you talk about the most important players on the Dallas Cowboys' roster, you can’t mention too many players before you get to Dwayne Harris.

He’s an impact player as a punt and kick returner, he excels on punt coverage and he’s the best blocking receiver on the roster. You can’t run against eight-man fronts unless receivers are blocking linebackers and safeties.

Go ahead, ask running back DeMarco Murray just how important Harris is to the running game and see what he says.

When Harris has gotten an opportunity to contribute as a receiver, he’s made an impact there, too. Not bad for a sixth-round pick from East Carolina.

Talk to enough coaches and they will tell you all Harris does is make plays.

In his first preseason game, he caught five passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner with 15 seconds left.

Last season, he had an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 90-yard kickoff return in a win against Washington, and he caught a seven-yard game-winning touchdown pass against Minnesota with 35 seconds left.

Last season, he finished third in the NFL in punt returns (12.8 yards per return) and second in kickoff returns ( 30.6 yards per return) .

Here is what Harris has to say about his journey to the NFL:

What was the name of your first team?

Harris: The Bulldogs

What was your first position?

Harris: Center

What position did you play in high school?

Harris: Quarterback

What’s your most memorable high school memory?

Harris: "We played our rivals Southwest DeKalb and I was the first freshman to ever beat them. I can’t remember all the stats, but I led us to a win.

What colleges did you visit?

Harris: "I visited North Carolina, Southern Miss, Kentucky and East Carolina. Those are the only schools that offered me to play quarterback. Everybody else wanted me to play receiver."

Why East Carolina?

Harris: "It was my best chance to play quarterback. I red-shirted. I made the switch to receiver after my freshman year. Going into my sophomore year I just thought about the statistics. Me, I’m 5-foot-10 so I just made a business decision. It was about getting to the next level and what gave me the best chance to do that.

"Initially, I wasn’t playing as much. I had a Wildcat package, but I wanted to be the starter because I wanted the ball in my hands all of the time. I talked to my coach and told him I wanted to change positions. Initially, they tried me on defense and I played cornerback for about a day.

"During my red-shirt year, they were going to take the red-shirt off and put me at running back, but it didn’t work out. One of our running backs had a great game, so they didn’t need to take the red-shirt off.

"Then they moved me to receiver. I had never played it before, so it took my about five games until I got on the field as a receiver. Until then, I was just a punt returner and a quarterback."

When did you start to think you had a chance to play in the NFL?

Harris: "After I broke every receiving record at ECU. I went to the Senior Bowl and saw some of the guys who were also at the combine. At the combine it was the same guys I had seen play in college, so it wasn’t like I didn’t know them."

What was draft day like? Did you expect to go higher than the sixth round?

Harris: "I expected myself to go higher than that. I don’t think a lot of the guys picked higher than me were better than me. I wasn’t mad at all on draft day, I was just happy I got a chance to be picked by somebody. I thought whoever got me was going to get a steal."

The Cowboys cut you in October of your rookie year and signed you to the practice squad where you spent nearly two months before getting back on the active roster. What was that experience like?

Harris: "It was an experience. You don’t know what to think. You don’t know what your next move is going to be. It was the first time it had ever happened to me. It was a scary 24 hours. Once they brought me back, I just continued to try to work hard and improve my craft."

One of the reasons coach Jason Garrett said they cut you is because you couldn’t get your weight down. You weighed 210 and they wanted you about 205. Did they tell you that?

Harris: "They’ve been saying I weigh too much since I got here. In college I played at 210 and I was a good player at 210. They wanted me to drop a little weight to make me quicker. So I did. I don’t feel like I’ve gotten any faster, but that’s what they want me to do, so I did it."

When did you know you could be an impact player at this level?

Harris: "From the beginning. Anytime they gave me a chance to play I had a good game and did what I had to do. And that’s from Day 1. In my first preseason. Whenever I got a chance I just tried to make plays."

What do you love about football?

Harris: "I just love the game. I love the physical nature of it because I’m a physical guy. The game is like life to me. You know the way Dez [Bryant] loves it and he shows all that enthusiasm -- I’m the same way -- I just don’t get quite as excited as he does."

How would you describe your football journey?

Harris: "It’s just beginning. I haven’t really touched the base of my talent. I haven’t really actually gotten to play or do anything besides special teams -- I play a little offense -- but I haven’t gotten my chance to really shine."