MESQUITE (CBSDFW.COM) — A high school coach motivating his team before the season opener is nothing new. But for Mesquite's DeMarcus Harris, it's extraordinary.
When you trace back to his humble beginnings in Pittsburg, Texas, you'll find that Harris was incapable of being motivated by anyone.
"You're talking about reacting to authority... In my mind, I'm grown... I'm taking care of myself. How can somebody else tell me what to do?" he said.
It was in his tiny East Texas town of just over 4,000 people where Harris had reason to believe he was all alone.
"I slept on couches... I slept on floors. At the time, I didn't think anything of it," he recalled. His home was wherever he could lay his head at night, and that included the high school press box.
It took a while before his high school counselor, Tarla Bates, found out. And as much as Harris attempted to create the illusion of a normal childhood, it was anything but.
His father, Marcus, was incarcerated from the time he was young and his mom, Ruby Faye, had her challenges with substance abuse.
"I'm not embarrassed to talk about anything in the past," his mother stated. "Because I know who I am today. He [Harris] knows who I am today. He always calls and says, 'I knew you could make it.'"
And it's that same positivity that led Harris to be named head coach of Mesquite High School's football team earlier this year.
When asked where she believed Harris was in danger of ending up, Bates said the streets.
"It was me and other teachers who said we can't lose this one. We pushed and pushed. He had lost enough. The last thing he needed to lose was his pride and soul," she said.
The Pittsburg Gazette newspaper will show that in July of 1998, he lost that too, when his older brother Richard was severely burned in a gas leak house explosion and died less than a week later.
"I had just lost my dad and my brother... He was the one and the same... Taking care of us, sending us home and then he was gone."
His mother said that's when she really hit bottom.
"But he just picked up the pieces and kept striving," she said.
In fact, Harris pushed himself harder than ever to excel — on and off the field. He later landed an academic scholarship at an esteemed private institution in Sherman and became a leader on his football team as a stand out linebacker, never taking for granted the first bed of his own.
"When I got to Austin College and I was in a dorm room... It felt good," he said.
He said it also felt good to have a coach as a sounding board, who was always willing to lend an ear.
"He would share some of the obstacles," his coach, David Norman, said. "He never blamed anyone. Not his background, not that he didn't have enough money... He took responsibility."
Even to the point of making the drive to be there for his father's prison release.
"I walk up to the fence. I'm looking for him. I was a little kid when he left, and [now] I'm 5'11, 240 pounds," he recalled. "I'm looking for this big man and I told my grandfather, 'I don't see him.' He said, 'He's right there.' And he's 5'7, 155 pounds. I said, 'We do look alike.'"
With his relationships with his mother and father now stronger than ever, so were his qualifications to be a head coach after four years as the defensive coordinator under Cedar Hill Head Coach Carlos Lynn.
"The measure of a man is the adversity you overcome," Lynn said. "We're excited to see where he takes that program."
Harris promises they're going to change "way more lives than we'll win football games."
And with those who love him most rooting him on, others should able to root for Mesquite's newest head coach as well.
"This is just another chapter in his life. He's gonna be great," Lynn said. "The pride I feel for every player... I didn't walk into their lives. They walked into mine."
When asked what the Mesquite High School players will learn from Harris, his mom said that nothing is impossible.
"Nothing in their lives should stop them from being what and who they want to be," she said.
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