Lee, now a 6-foot-3, 308-pound offensive lineman, graduated from CHS in 2007 and went on to Furman and played Division I, Football Championship Subdivision football, earning a starting spot during his redshirt sophomore season.
Harris thought his playing career was over when he graduated from Carrollton that same year, attending Auburn University to originally just focus on academics. But after walking on to become the team’s long-snapper, Harris earned a scholarship and ended up winning a national championship with the Tigers during his junior season.
Now the two friends and former teammates are taking on another journey together — professional football. The pair were both in town this past week, where they were able to catch up, reflect on old times and look ahead to the future.
“It’s been really cool to be able to share something like this with Ryan, a guy I grew up playing football with. Not everyone really gets an opportunity to play at the professional level and every kid dreams of it. To be able to do that with a friend that you’ve played with for so long and to be able to share something like that, that’s really cool,” said Harris, who inked a free-agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons.
The two have stayed in touch since their respective exits from the Trojan Nation, as they would call each other after games and talk about different experiences playing in college.
“When you go off to college you expect to stay in touch with everybody, but there’s only a few you really still talk to on a regular basis and Josh is one of those guys. We’ve stayed in touch and whenever we’re in town together, we try to get together and do something,” said Lee, who signed his free-agent deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In 2009, Lee’s first year starting, the Paladins traveled to take on Harris’ Tigers, bringing the duo to the same field for the first time since high school. Heavily favored, Auburn won the game, but it again connected the pair through football.
As their respective senior seasons came to a close, Harris was invited to participate in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., while Lee played in the AstroTurf National Football League Players Association Collegiate Bowl in California. They also started receiving calls from agents as their professional prospects grew.
Neither of their names were called during the draft, but both were picked up shortly after the conclusion of the final round as undrafted free agents — Lee by Pittsburgh and Harris by Atlanta. Both got their first taste of life in the NFL at their respective Organized Team Activities, and they made sure to always keep in touch.
“It was really cool to hear how Pittsburgh runs their camp and how we were doing ours in Atlanta. It’s just fun to be able to share and compare those experiences,” Harris said.
The pair have been back in Carrollton between OTAs and reporting for training camp and, as always, have found time to get together.
“I’ve had a lot of fun. I’ve only been in town a couple days, but like every time we’ve come back, we always try to make the most of it and hang out as much as possible. You never know when the next time is going to be that you get to hang out. We’ve done some training together to get ready for camp. We did that [Tuesday]. Really, just kind of relax and having a good time while at the same time getting ready for camp that’s coming up. Try to go out there, earn a job and make a living playing football,” Harris said.
Lee added that is was nice to be home for a while to relax and get away from everything for a little bit.
“Because while you’re there, it does get stressful and you start thinking about everything. It’s nice to get home. I’ve been working out — going back and forth to Atlanta training. Josh has been home this past week, so we’ve been hanging out, playing some golf. Because hopefully we won’t be back home until after the Super Bowl,” Lee said.
That progression will hopefully land them on NFL rosters. And who knows? With the way their paths have crossed throughout their football lives, the pair could just meet again in a Pittsburgh-Atlanta Super Bowl.