As he warmed up on the field at Reliant Stadium last Saturday, Chris Lewis-Harris wasn't thinking about the road that led him to Houston. The former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga cornerback was focused on the immediate future - helping the Cincinnati Bengals win an NFL playoff game for the first time since 1991.
The next day, after the Bengals came up short in a 19-13 loss to the Houston Texans, Lewis-Harris was able to speak with some perspective about all that has transpired in the past five-plus months.
"I really believe I'm blessed to be where I am right now, to get the opportunity that I have," said the 2011 All-Southern Conference defensive back. "I had a couple of doubts for a while, but I had good people around me that motivated me and helped me stay patient. Slowly, things worked out and I ended up [playing in a playoff game]."
Despite a solid career with the Mocs (183 tackles, 23 pass break-ups and five interceptions) and a good performance at UTC's pro day last April (4.47 40-yard dash), the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder wasn't drafted. He also didn't sign as an undrafted rookie free agent right away.
It wasn't until July 26, the day before training camp began, that the Bengals signed Lewis-Harris. Cincinnati's secondary had been decimated by injuries and the Bengals needed defensive backs. As it turned out, Lewis-Harris was the only defensive back to participate in all of training camp. In four preseason games, he totaled 13 tackles and a sack.
Lewis-Harris was among the last players cut at the end of camp and was quickly signed to the eight-man practice squad. Former Mocs quarterback B.J. Coleman, drafted in the seventh round, made the Green Packers' practice squad.
Unlike Coleman, Lewis-Harris got a chance to play as a rookie, mostly on special teams. He first suited up against Jacksonville in week 4. Afterward he was waived and re-signed to the practice squad, where he spent the next 12 weeks.
In week 17, Lewis-Harris was again signed to the active roster and in the Bengals' 23-17 win against Baltimore, he made the first two tackles of his career.
The following week, he was playing on special teams in a playoff game.
"That was the first time I'd been in postseason play since I was in high school, so a lot of adrenaline was rushing through me," he said.
Lewis-Harris has a contract with the Bengals, but he knows he's not assured anything going into next year.
"When they signed me it was for a three-year deal, but you know how that goes in this league," he said, referring to the fact that contracts aren't guaranteed. "For right now, it just lets me know that I have somewhere to go next year for OTAs [organized team activities] and things like that."
A year ago at this time, he was hoping for a chance in the NFL. Now he's determined to stay there.