DuJuan Harris puts on brave face in wake of season-ending injury

GREEN BAY, Wis. — DuJuan Harris didn’t want his family to worry. After reinjuring the patellar tendon in his right knee in Friday’s preseason game, the Green Bay Packers’ 24-year-old running back made sure to walk off the field under his own power, even though it was painful.

When Harris called his mother to give her the bad news, he didn’t cry. For a player who was out of the NFL and selling used cars less than one year ago, Harris didn’t view this as anything he couldn’t overcome.

Smiling and standing at his locker, Harris put on a brave face in front of reporters and his teammates, the same way he did with his family when he found out he was being placed on injured reserve and would miss the entire 2013 season.

“I don’t want them to soften up on me,” Harris told FOXSportsWisconsin.com. “I’ll be fine. If I sound fine, I’m fine. ‘Don’t talk about it. Don’t tear up.’ It’s not like it’s the end of the world or I’m on my deathbed. As long as my leg is still on me and attached to me, I’m going to keep playing. I’m good.”

Harris’ short NFL career has already had significant ups and downs. After an uneventful year with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a rookie in 2011, Harris was released. He spent only four days with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2012 training camp before being cut. No offers on the table, Harris was out of football for nearly two months.

Getting an opportunity with the Packers late last season, Harris quickly elevated from Green Bay’s practice squad to being the starting running back in the playoffs. Now, Harris will have to spend the year on the sideline.

“It just adds onto my story,” Harris said. “It’s not over with. We’re probably reading like, let’s just say it’s a 12-chapter book, we’re probably on (chapter) 4 or 5. We’ve got a long story ahead of us.”

The next chapter of Harris’ story was supposed to be an uplifting one. He hoped that the discovery — and removal — of a cyst near his lungs in June was going to be the last hurdle for him to clear for a while. His injured knee had other plans. But that doesn’t mean he’s letting it get him down.

“I wasn’t going to let the cyst stop me,” Harris said. “The cyst is more of a bigger deal than my knee. So, hey, I didn’t let that stop me and I still came out here and was in shape and everything else. I was playing softball and shooting golf like a week after (getting the cyst removed).”

Coach Mike McCarthy had big plans for Harris this season. Despite the Packers drafting Eddie Lacy in the second round and trading up to select Johnathan Franklin in the fourth round, McCarthy stated on Aug. 12 that he “would classify (Harris) as a starter on our football team. I have that confidence in him.”

Harris was clearly appreciative of that comment from his coach and vowed at the time not to let McCarthy down. Though he’s disappointed in the situation, Harris doesn’t feel as if he failed McCarthy or the team.

“I did everything I could,” Harris said. “I was going to give them my all. It hurts not to be able to do that for them. I’ll definitely work my (butt) off to get back healthy.”

McCarthy was quite distraught when announcing the news about Harris.

“It’s a tough one,” McCarthy said. “He’s definitely a young player I felt was going to be an impactful player on offense. I know it’s a tough blow for him, but we need to get him healthy and we will start that process.”

Harris’ teammates were disheartened, too.

“It sucks, honestly,” offensive lineman Josh Sitton said. “He’s a hell of a player. He was going to be a big part of this offense. You’ve got to move on. We know more than anybody, I think you’ve got to move on fast. The other guys will step up and play.”

Lacy would have been a major part of Green Bay’s running game either way, but his role will likely now be even greater. Lacy could potentially become an every-down player this season, unless the Packers believe that Franklin, Alex Green or James Starks can join in as part of a new one-two punch.

This is the same injury that kept Harris out during the offseason training activities and forced him to miss the first 11 training camp practices. Previously, Harris would only say it was a “tweak” in his knee, but even after he returned to practice on Aug. 12, he wasn’t close to 100 percent.

“I’ve been hurt,” Harris said. “It just got to the point where I had to get out now.”

Surgery hasn’t been scheduled yet, but Harris said it is necessary.

As Harris concluded the interview, he wasn’t done working for the day. He was about to lift weights, doing everything he would normally do, with the exception of any leg exercises.

“I’ve got to,” Harris said. “The ones that come back from it are the ones still grinding no matter what.”

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