Bills fifth-round pick Nic Harris did not have a single familiar face at Bills rookie camp last weekend. Starting a professional football career on your own can certainly be a challenge. But if you have the mental fortitude and perseverance that the Oklahoma safety turned linebacker possesses it's just another transition in life.
There's no doubt the physical demands of the league will be difficult, but the mental strain and test of his own self-confidence might seem like small potatoes to Harris. He's been through far greater challenges in his life, and at a much younger age.
At three months Harris was abandoned by his parents. Born in 1986 to a 17-year old father and 16-year old mother, Nic would not have the home life that most infants experience.
"I grew up without parents and it pretty much shaped me into the person that I am now," said Harris. "It shaped my mentaility, my morale and the values that I should have, and I wanted to strive to be better than them. I wanted to be a better man. I wanted to be better than my father and my mother."
Harris was quickly taken in by his grandparents as they took on the duty of raising him until age eight.
"Ultimately I have to give 100 percent credit to my grandmother, who passed the spring of my freshman year," Harris said. "I took my circumstances with a grain of salt. I woke up every day and just thanked God for my life every day. I was grateful for the small things."
Between the ages of eight and 15 Harris bounced between the homes of his extended family as his relatives did not want to see Nic enter the Louisiana state foster care program.
He also was taken in a good portion of those seven years by LaQuanda Harrell, a former girlfriend of his father, who gave birth to one of Harris' eight siblings. Harris refers to her as his stepmother.
"Having her come into my life, pretty much being a mother to my sister, she understood my disposition," said Harris. "She wanted to mold me into a better man. I give credit to her. In my later years there are a slew of people that I have to thank for me being the way that I am. I just want to remain humble and give credit to all of them."
There was always food on the table, clothes to wear and a roof over his head, even if he never had a bed that he could call his own for very long moving between the homes of aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins through the years.
As a result there was also a lot that Harris had to do on his own like homework with little to no parental assistance or supervision. Harris also attended nine different schools in his home state of Louisiana before his grade school days were over.
At age 15 Harris came to a defining moment in his life. He legally released himself from all ties to his birth parents.
"I went through the emancipation process when I was 15 from both of my parents to declare myself independent in the state of Louisiana," he said.
He later was taken in by surrogate parents, Kelly and Harry Welch, who provided a guiding hand along with Harrell.
Already into his mid-teens Harris had become fiercely independent, which wasn't surprising considering the lack of a stable family structure.
"Going through high school I had four different jobs and was playing various different sports, but I graduated in the top three percent of my class," said Harris.
Despite his unfortunate upbringing Harris has never wallowed in self-pity or outwardly shown disdain for his birth parents.
"I never asked God 'Why me?' but rather 'Why not me,'" said Harris. "Who am I? I'm special so why can't it happen for me?'"
For Harris it did happen for him in football. At Alexandria high school Harris finished his career with a school record 21 interceptions, nine of which he returned for touchdowns as he led his team to consecutive state playoff appearances. As a senior he earned All-Central Louisiana and All-State honors. He was also named the state of Louisiana's unanimous Defensive MVP.
Rated a top five safety nationally by several scouting publications, Harris chose Oklahoma joining the Sooners as a free safety. Much like his upbringing, Harris was often on the move playing five different positions in his time in Norman.
And now he will make another position change with Buffalo as the Bills see him as an outside linebacker instead of a safety.
"I just want to come in and get the job done," said Harris. "I'm just one of those guys that's selfless. It doesn't really matter where you play me."
Where Harris also intends to play a role is in the community. A two-term president of Bridge Builders at Oklahoma, a minority student organization focused on community service, Harris likes to reinforce to elementary school kids the importance of a good education.
In 2007 he was one of 11 Division 1-A players selected for the American Football Coaches' Association Good Works Team, which recognizes work in the community.
He knows what underprivileged children need having been one of those kids himself. It's why Harris is such a strong advocate for education. He believes his education is what helped pull him through his younger years.
Harris relied on his schooling as much as his extended family to avoid becoming an unfortunate statistic.
"When life throws you a curve ball it doesn't mean you have to swing," he said.
Carving out a career in the NFL will be anything but easy, but it's not overwhelming for the intelligent and talented young product of Alexandria, Louisiana.
"I'm going to take the same approach to the NFL that I took in life," said Harris. "I'm at the chopping block again now with a dull butter knife and I'm just going at it every day."