Friday, February 23, 2018

Alex Donnelly, a seventh-grader at Washington Middle School in Miles City, admires the helmet – a Pittsburgh Steelers model from the 2009 Super Bowl championship season – that was worn by Colstrip High School and University of Montana graduate Tuff Harris.

Tuff love: Harris says responding to challenges is ‘secret sauce’ of success

His given name is Chester David Harris, but most people know him as “Tuff,” a nickname provided by his grandmother after he survived pneumonia as an infant in a Billings hospital.
Tuff Harris, a Montana native, played parts of four seasons in the National Football League with four teams – the Dolphins, Saints, Titans and Steelers – plus one season with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League.
Born in Crow Agency in 1983, the 34-year-old Harris has quite a story to tell. Well, make that many stories of football and life in general.
As a 6-foot, 198-pound defensive back, Harris played high school football, basketball, baseball and ran track and field at Colstrip High School, graduating in 2002.
Going from the Crow Reservation (St. Xavier) to Colstrip was considered a bold move at the time.
“We had less than 50 people and half were my family,” Harris said with a moderate exaggeration to a sold-out noon gathering at the Miles City Town & Country Club.
Besides what he jokingly refers to as St. Xavier Nowhere, Harris also lived in Hardin and Lodge Grass before transferring to Colstrip, where he is remembered fondly as a seven-time state champion in track.
“To go to Colstrip was really a culture shock to me,” he said. “When I left the reservation to go to Colstrip, to me it was a difficult transition.”
His goal was athletic and academic success, which certainly was achieved.
“People ask me how did you make it from St. Xavier Nowhere to playing in front of 65,000 to 80,000 people? How do we have success? How do you do it?” Harris said. “They feel I have the secret sauce and say, ‘Give it to me.’
“There’s success out there for everyone. My gift was athletics, but every day is a new challenge.”
The morning of Monday, Nov. 13, he delivered a resounding message in Miles City at Custer County District High School, followed by the noon talk, another at Washington Middle School and then an open session.
“I consider everybody here a leader,” he said at the Country Club. “You are the foundation of the community.”
Harris was recruited for track at the University of Montana, but also chose to be a walk-on with the Grizzlies in football. Through his efforts, he earned a scholarship. He became a starter at cornerback for all four years with the Griz.
Harris continues to be listed as an NFL free agent online, but he doesn’t figure to play again. Instead, he’s started the One Heart Warriors, which has a mission statement: “Exists to restore complete health to the Native people through education, leadership development, discipline training, while partnering with the body of Christ to fulfill what the word of God commissions.”
“You really become family,” he said of the organization. “It’s guys I consider brothers for the rest of my life. It’s just a message from a small-town boy from Montana.”
He provided several messages, one of which concerned major decisions in one’s life.
“We’re always going to have decisions,” he said. “Don’t run away from them.
Tuff Harris made it clear that he doesn’t.