GREEN BAY, Wis. — DuJuan Harris wasn’t much of a car salesman. Didn’t sell a single one, in fact, in the week he was working at a Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge dealership in Jacksonville, Fla.
“I came close a few times,” he said. “I don’t want to say I was nervous, but people would ask me about the cars and I didn’t know much about it. I was just like, ‘Man, I’m not going to sell the cars.’”
That’s OK. As the Green Bay Packers have discovered — and the rest of the NFL is quickly learning — the pint-sized running back is far better suited for a job in pro football.
Elevated from the practice squad Dec. 1, Harris’ speed, elusiveness and surprising power have helped give the Packers the consistent rushing game they’ve been trying to find all season. And after catching a team-high five passes last Saturday night, Harris also gives Aaron Rodgers yet another option in what was already the NFC’s deepest receiving game.
The Packers (12-5) play at San Francisco (11-4-1) on Saturday in an NFC divisional game.
“He’s kind of a Transformer,” Rodgers said last week. “There’s more than meets the eye with DuJuan. He’s a very tough guy. He’s got great athleticism, agility; he makes some great jump cuts. … He’s done some nice things for us.”
Signed by Jacksonville last season as an undrafted free agent out of Troy, Harris spent most of 2011 on the Jaguars’ practice squad. He played his way onto the active roster by the end of the season, running for 42 yards on nine carries in Jacksonville’s last five games. After the Jaguars cut Harris at the end of training camp, he was picked up by Pittsburgh.
But he was with the Steelers only four days before being cut again, and he went back to Jacksonville to wait for his next opportunity.
“I was just working out, staying in shape and pretty much just chilling,” Harris said.
As the weeks passed and his phone stayed noticeably silent, Harris decided he needed to do something else. A friend had connections at a Mercedes-Benz dealership, and got Harris an interview.
It was clear immediately that wasn’t going to be a good fit.
“They asked me if I would consider cutting my hair,” said Harris, whose dreadlocks reach all the way to the middle of his back. “I was like, ‘No, I know my career in football is not done.’ ”
Another friend put him in touch with the Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge dealership, which has hired a few other NFL players. When they told Harris they needed him to take a drug test, he laughed.
“I was like, ‘Really, I have to go take a (urine) test? I’m clean. I don’t smoke or none of that. I’m clean. I’ve got to be clean to do workouts for the NFL,’ ” Harris said.
He put on a shirt and tie every day, too.
“I was never used to coming to work in a shirt and tie unless it’s for game day,” he said. “I enjoyed it.”
After a week, though, Harris got a call from the Packers. He was signed to the practice squad Oct. 24.
“I felt like it was a test of my faith and I kept faith. When I got signed, I knew it was time to stay,” he said. “I had to come in and get to work and do whatever I had to stay.”
Though Harris is only 5-foot-8 and listed at 208 pounds, he packs the power of a lineman. By the end of his first week in Green Bay, the Packers knew they had a keeper.
While Harris appreciates the faith the Packers have in him, he doesn’t think he’s made it. Not after where he was only a few months ago.