By Steve Gorten, Special to The Palm Beach Post
MIAMI – Marcell Harris believed in his pro future enough that he declared for the NFL draft two years ago even though he had just sat out his final season at Florida because of a torn Achilles.
So when the San Francisco 49ers waived Harris before the start of this season after he played the final eight games (five starts) as a rookie, the safety didn’t surrender.
Sunday, he’ll play in Super Bowl LIV.
“I’ve got a book that I wrote to my grandmother back when I was little, and at the end of it, I told her I wanted to be in the NFL. But Super Bowl champion or Super Bowl [participant] never came to mind,” Harris said. “I started to help this team in the middle of the season, and I’m just blessed to be here.”
One day after he was waived, Harris was signed to the 49ers’ practice squad. One month later, he was promoted, and the player (Antone Exum) who had replaced him to start the season suddenly faced the same “tough” road back.
“Having to go through all that always makes or breaks you,” Harris said. “That’s how I think of it with everything I do in life. I never let adversity stop me from my goals. And I didn’t do that. I didn’t waver from hearing that I was waived or on the practice team. I always continued to go hard and strived to be the best I can be. And that led me to where I am today.”
After 34 tackles as a rookie, Harris had 40 tackles (23 solo) in 13 regular-season games this season, including nine (six solo) against Seattle in an NFC West-clinching win. He also forced three fumbles and had five passes defensed. On Sunday, he’ll back up starter Jaquiski Tartt at strong safety against the Kansas City Chiefs at Hard Rock Stadium, about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from his hometown of Orlando.
Harris said he’s eager for a chance to cover his friend and former Gators teammate — Chiefs receiver Demarcus Robinson. The two said they haven’t communicated this week, but they chatted when the teams played in the preseason and keep up on social media.
Like Harris, Robinson is excited.
“We definitely gave each other a lot of good work [in practice at Florida],” Robinson said. “We’re going to do the same thing Sunday.”
Regardless of which of them prevails, a former UF player will win a Super Bowl ring for the 11th year in the past 13. The Gators have had at least one player appear in each of the past 18 Super Bowls.
Harris said the Gators equipment staff sends him orange and blue gear “every now and then,” and “it’s lovely to see” his alma mater “have a good coach in there that’s doing the right things for the program.”
As for his own future, Harris said he won’t be discouraged by any setback.
“There’s probably not a day in my life where I never had a chip on my shoulder because I wanted to be great,” said Harris, who was a sixth-round draft pick (184th overall) in 2018. “I knew the type of caliber player I was from the get-go. I’m just glad the 49ers could see that in me and gave me the opportunity to be here.”
Kansas City vs. San Francisco, 6:30 p.m. (FOX) Sunday, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens