Defensive tackle Damon "Snacks" Harrison just completed his first season with the Giants, one in which he earned AP All-Pro honors. Harrison comes from humble beginnings - the Lake Charles, Louisiana native was under recruited coming out of high school, and signed with his first NFL team as an undrafted free agent. Giants.com's Michael Eisen sat down with Snacks for some insight into his journey to the NFL and Big Blue.
Q: Where’d you grow up?
Harrison: “New Iberia, Louisiana. “I moved to Lake Charles before and after the hurricane (Rita, in September 2005). I moved there in sixth grade or something. I came back the following year and then went back to Lake Charles my sophomore year in high school. I graduated in Lake Charles, but I’m from New Iberia.”
Q: Where are you in the pecking order of your siblings?
Harrison: “The second youngest of four. The oldest is my brother. I have an older sister and a younger sister.”
Q: Did you play sports when you were young?
Harrison: “Not organized sports. We played around the neighborhood. We played baseball and basketball every day, and football. Just a whole bunch of games. We were always running. It was the only thing I was good at back then. I wasn’t strong at all, but I could run. I wasn’t big. I was small. I didn’t grow until freshman year of high school. I was always under 180.”
Q: When did you start playing organized sports?
Harrison: “I was on the J.V. basketball team in New Iberia. That lasted a few weeks. I couldn’t really afford to get back and forth from practice to home. I was walking a lot after practice, because my mom and my stepdad were working. After a while it just became too much. I was too proud at the time to ask anyone for a ride home. I would wait till everyone left, and then I would walk home. It was a long walk on a narrow road. I moved to Lake Charles and I was on the J.V. basketball team (at Lake Charles Boston High School). Also the varsity, but I wasn’t playing. My junior year I was on the varsity. My senior year I went out for football, basketball and track.”
Q: You were never a big football guy?
Harrison: “No, basketball was my first love. I can still shoot the rock by the way. I tore my meniscus playing basketball at the end of my junior year. That’s when I gained like 40 or 50 pounds. I just decided to play football. The coaches were hounding me to play, asking me to play. I would tell them no. I was a basketball player. After football season was over, I knew I was going to transition into basketball. Basketball season came to an end. I wasn’t the best student. I was somewhat of a troublemaker. The coaches told me if I wanted to stick around in school and not get kicked out, I would have to play another sport. That’s when I started track. I was an All-District shot-putter. I was pretty good at the shot put. That was the only reason why I started track. Just to stay in sports so I would stay out of trouble.”
Q: Did you like football as soon as you started playing it?
Harrison: “I tried out as a sophomore when I first moved to Lake Charles. I went to one practice. Didn’t know a position, so I told them running back. That’s what I played around the neighborhood. The coach leaned over looked at my feet and said, ‘Your feet are too big to play running back.’ They gave me a try at running back at practice. I dragged maybe about five or six guys for about a 5-yard gain. I ran the ball maybe five or six times. I was doing everything else on special teams. After that practice my body was so sore, and I had to walk home. I made the decision that I wasn’t going to go back out there. Football wasn’t for me at the time. That was that.”
Q: But you tried it again as a senior.
Harrison: “Yes. I was an offensive guard and tackle and a backup defensive end.”
Q: Did you like it more the second time?
Harrison: “Yes, because all my friends were playing. When I went as a sophomore, I didn’t know anyone.”
Q: Before we move on, tell me how Hurricane Rita affected your like. You were evacuated and separated from your family for a long time? Are you amazed you came through it as well as you did?
Harrison: “Yes. There was so many things that had to happen perfectly for me to still be here and even make it through that. The fact that it did happen, every single thing, it’s nothing short of amazing. It made me the man I am today. I love my family to death. I love them to death still. It was at that time that I realized that I couldn’t depend on anyone but me. That forced me to do something’s that I wasn’t comfortable doing before in order to push myself to be something I wanted to be.”
Q: At what point did you begin to think you might be able to play football in college?
Harrison: “It really wasn’t until my coach (James Kelly) had a talk with me. I was going to go to college to play basketball. My football coach told me about the numbers game in college. How it was about 12-15 guys on the basketball team and hundreds on the football team. He was giving me the percentages and the chances. He told me my meal ticket was in football. The basketball coach was telling me the same thing. I really believed if I stayed and played basketball that I would be in the NBA right now. I’m glad I chose football. After that talk I had with him, I sent out emails to some coaches, just trying to get an opportunity. Much of your recruiting goes on your junior year. I didn’t have any film form that. I didn’t get an offer from anyone.”
Q: How did you get from Lake Charles to William Penn University in Iowa?
Harrison: “The last day the seniors in high school were allowed to be in the library, I went and I sent out e-mails to different college coaches. One coach from Northwest Mississippi Community College named Steven Miller was the only one that wrote me back. Long story short: he brought me in at Northwest Mississippi Community College on a scholarship. He got the job at William Penn and he called me to come up to William Penn with him.”
Q: When you got to Iowa after spending your entire life in Louisiana, what was that like?
Harrison: “It was a culture shock out of this world. To be honest, I had never gone to school with white kids before.”
Q: Was your high school all black?
Harrison: At Lake Charles Boston High School (where he spent his final three years) every single kid. I want to say 98 percent of the teachers were black. That’s how I finished high school. Honestly, if you were outside of there and you saw white people you knew you were somewhere you weren’t supposed to be.”
Q: But you enjoyed your time in Iowa, correct?
Harrison: “Oh, yes sir. I learned to enjoy it, and it calms you down. I liked the atmosphere. It’s a Quaker school, a small town. Coming from Louisiana, everything is loud, but it slowed down. I learned to be more reserved and just kind of sit back and just let things flow.
“I didn’t want to be in a big city. Just that down home country field made me feel comfortable. For maybe the first month I didn’t go to school. I didn’t leave my room unless it was to go to the cafeteria to eat. It was snowing and I never saw snow before in my life. I didn’t have boots or a heavy jacket. I didn’t even have pants. I had all basketball shorts and short pants. It was bad. But I enjoyed my time there and I wouldn’t be the man I am today without going through that. As well as the player, I wouldn’t be the man I am today.”
Q: Did you enjoy football there?
Harrison: “I met some really good guys when I was there. I think it made me appreciate football a little more. You’re playing with a group of guys that know they’re not going to the NFL after they’re done there. They still gave it their all and played their hearts out.”
Q: When did you start to think that maybe you could play in the NFL?
Harrison: “If you honestly asked me that, I’ll tell you that from day one in college. I said that somebody is going to pay me to play football, but I didn’t think the NFL. I just said somebody. My junior year, when I really started to dominate and the NFL scouts started to come in, that’s when I really realized I had an opportunity. There was one scout that came by before to see someone else that didn’t make it to the NFL a few years ago. Then it was like two or three that were coming every week. By then, all 32 NFL teams had come and they kept coming. That’s when I knew I had a shot.”
Q: Did you think at the end of your college career that you had a chance to get drafted?
Harrison: “Yes sir, I thought I did. I had a couple people telling me I was going to get drafted - a couple of G.M.’s that I won’t name. Just from being the small town kid, reading the internet, I wasn’t used to all of that. I was projected to go as high as the third round on one draft board and one blog that I read, and as low as the seventh round. I just knew I was going to get drafted at some point.”
Q: So when you didn’t, was that a big disappointment?
Harrison: “It was frustrating. I turned my cell phone off so my agent couldn’t get through to me. I was with two of my college coaches and my good friends. It was supposed to be this whole draft party at Buffalo Wild Wings and then it never happened. The ride back home was a long one.”
Q: How soon after the draft ended did you start hearing from teams?
Harrison: “Like I said, I turned my phone off and got in our van, proceeded to go back, take the hour drive back to the school. Then I turned my phone on like five minutes later, and my agent had called me and told me about some opportunities. He thought it would be a great opportunity with the New York Jets. They had a good history with undrafted guys. That made it a higher possibility that I could make the team. I didn’t know anything about New York. Never seen it before or been here before. Just what I saw on T.V. It just felt like it would be a great opportunity.
Q: Did you quickly say to yourself once you got into pro camp, “I can play at this level?”
Harrison: “No, not really. For so long I was the biggest guy on the field, when I got the NFL, everybody’s big - running backs, kickers, punters. It was a confidence issue, it’s a battle in my mind of me telling myself I can do it and just thinking I couldn’t. About a week into it I want to say, that’s when I realized I can hang with them.”
Q: Does a player who enters after begin passed over in the draft always carry a chip on his shoulder?
Harrison: “I would think so. When I came into the league I was pretty much viewed as a camp body, somebody who they brought in to see if I could play. I made it through the rookie minicamp and the expectations were low. Every day, I feared walking into the locker room or walking into the building and having a guy asking me for my playbook. I want to say for the better part of a year that fear sat with me and it forced me to work hard each and every day, on the field and as well as off the field, to where now I’m more of an established player. Trust me, I don’t think I’ve made it at all, I still have a lot to prove to myself. Just in comparison where I was then to where I am now, it’s night and day.
“A lot of people think my crowning moment signing a big contract (with the Giants) and going from where I was to where I am now. I, by far, don’t think I’ve made it. I’m not patting myself on the back, I’m not happy with where I am. I want to be great. I want to be considered on the best undrafted free agents that will play the game, one of the best defensive lineman ever. I don’t relax. I’m mad at every team that didn’t draft me. I’m mad the Giants didn’t draft me back then, or the Jets, or anybody. That’s something that I have with me every single day and it’s not a joke; that’s not something I’m just saying, it’s true.
Q: After your rookie year you played in every game the next three years. How important is that to you to be a guy that can be counted on every week like that?
Harrison: “Those are the guys who stick around, the guys who can actually be out there and play. It shows a level of consistency and toughness. Because at some point in everybody’s career, you’re going to have to play through something that you may deem too much. You just have to show that you’re tough, and I think I’ve done that, as well as being durable.”
Q: Many people call you Snacks, the nickname Rex Ryan hung on you. When did he do that?
Harrison: “My rookie year. One, he said every time he saw me I was eating something. Two, we used to have Rice Krispy Treats hanging around the facility and Rex and (defensive line) coach (Karl) Dunbar would leave a couple on my desk and just tease me to see if I would eat them. But I’d never touch them. You can’t hide away from it (the nickname), man - or I can’t. I can’t hide, I can’t run from it. I didn’t like it at first, but it’s grown on me and the fans love it, so Snacks is here to stay.”
Q: How about coming over here to the Giants? Have you enjoyed it?
Harrison: “Yes. My past experience has made transitions easier for me even, though I’m a guy that doesn’t like change. I like to have everything the same and I can be constant. My past experience help.”
Q: What attracted you to this team? Why do you like this situation?
Harrison: “History, man. I’ve heard people say, ‘Being across the street, you admire your neighbor’s house.’ Your neighbor’s won championships, they’ve won Super Bowls. You hear them talked about just about every town everywhere you go. It’s a level of admiration you have for them, as well you want to emulate that. Once I got the opportunity to come here, it was a no-brainer.”
Q: Is your strength as a player your strength?
Harrison: “Yes, sir. My strength, but I think beyond anything, it’s my wits. I think I’m a very smart player. I diagnose situations and things pretty fast, probably faster than the normal player. If you show me something on the board, I’m not that classroom guy. But as far as getting out on the field and looking at things and having a feel, I think it sets me apart from other people.”
Q: Do you love football now?
Harrison: “Yes. At first I didn’t love it because it was too physical. I didn’t know that you would endure so much pain playing football. Now, I’m used to the pain and my body is used to the pain. I love dishing out punishment. To look in a grown man’s eye and he knows just as well as you that he can’t do anything with you and that he has to deal with you every single play, it’s an amazing feeling.”
Q: You bought your mom a house.
Harrison: “Yes, In Lake Charles. It meant a lot, because I told her as a kid that I would do that one day. Just to be able to stand on my word and make that happen. It’s a feeling I really can’t explain. I knew she would appreciate it and remember that I told her that one day. I really can’t put it into words.”
Q: You got married (to Alexis) last offseason? How old is the stepdaughter?
Harrison: “She is eight. The married life is a little different. Everything that was an option before is now a responsibility. You’re not just living for yourself now. You have a wife to take care of and a stepdaughter, as well as your own family and kids. You have to merge all of that together. Make that work. It’s been different. My wife has been great and patient with me. She knows I’m learning on the fly. Just like anything else that I do, I want to be the best football player. The best husband, dad, football player and son.”
Q: Do you have a foundation?
Harrison: “The Damon Harrison I Told the Storm Foundation. There isn’t anything specific that we’re targeting. I’m the type of guy that I want to help so many people in so many areas. I just don’t want to limit it to one thing. The people in my circle they told me I have to start narrowing some things down. It’s really going to be focused on the kids. I’m a giver. I make donations to a lot of things. My main focus will be the kids for now, and New Iberia. Trying to help my hometown. The floods in Louisiana really affected my hometown. I’m going to try my best to get some things done around there.”
Q: Is it “I Told the Storm” because of Hurricane Rita?
Harrison: “You could say that. One of the logos on there is the fish. It’s the lowercase I, but the fish dots the I. In Christianity, the fish is symbolic because it can swim in deep waters and doesn’t drown. That’s why I use that. I’m a man that’s deeply rooted in my faith as well. I Told the Storm coincides with my story.”