FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – David Harris was happy to spare a few minutes to chat before he headed home — and then he heard the topic of conversation.
"This story," the reporter informed him, "is about you."
The New York Jets' playmaking linebacker shrugged his shoulders, scrunched up his face and sighed.
"Me? Why?" he asked, acting as if he were stunned that anyone would want to speak to the guy known to teammates as "The Hitman," the defense's quarterback who has led the Jets in tackles during six of his seven seasons.
That's Harris in a nutshell: one of the most reluctant and least flashy star players this area has seen in recent years.
"He's a simple dude," fellow linebacker Demario Davis said. "What you see is what you get. He's just going to do what he needs to do. Every day, all the time. He's just always in the right place doing the right thing."
Harris has been a consistent contributor from the moment he was drafted in the second round out of Michigan in 2007.
But for all the noise he has made on the field — his 887 tackles, according to team totals, rank fifth in franchise history — Harris is a bit of an enigma because he shuns the spotlight.
No big-time TV endorsements. No headline-making quotes.
"Today in society, it seems like everybody likes that spotlight on them," he said. "I try, in a way I guess, to show these guys that there's a different way to do things rather than being a guy who's starving for attention. You go out there and do your job, do it at a high level, be respectable and carry yourself without needing the spotlight on you.
"Everything else is extra to me. I need that energy for other stuff."
It might sound bland and boring to some, especially when you consider the type of money a good, consistent pro athlete such as Harris could make off the field. But Harris, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, has never wanted any of that.
He's a humble guy who is polite, but not overly forthcoming when it comes to speaking with the media.
"To some people, that's just not who they are, and I respect that," linebacker Quinton Coples said. "He wants to be known as David Harris, a great middle linebacker who plays for the New York Jets. It isn't about, oh, see that Dave Harris commercial? Or, see Dave Harris with all the praise and the big contract? That's just not his style."
On the field, Harris can be a runaway freight train that plows into opposing offensive players. He has had more than 100 tackles in every season except 2008, when he missed five games because of an ankle injury. Harris already leads the team with 18 tackles this season.
"He might seem quiet to the media and most people," linebacker Nick Bellore said. "His play, though, speaks for itself."
Harris calls the defensive signals as an extension of Rex Ryan, and his responsibilities as the "Mike" linebacker include getting his teammates in the right position on every snap and zeroing in on ballcarriers.
"David Harris, he's an average football player, right? Yeah," Ryan said sarcastically. "He's way better than average. This guy's a heck of a football player and he is underrated, but he's a heck of Mike backer, too."
Harris has the full respect from his teammates and coaches, yet he has never made a Pro Bowl. He was a second-team All-Pro selection in 2009. But other than that, Harris makes a ton of tackles in relative obscurity.
Just the way he likes it.
"That's not my decision to make," Harris said of off-field accolades. "As long as I do my job and the coaches have faith in me to do my job, I'm good. Everything else, I'm not going to spend time worrying about what other people think about me."
Harris' contract is up after this season, and his future with the franchise is uncertain. He'll be 31 in January, an age when players start to decline, but said he'd like to play another eight seasons. Only center Nick Mangold and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson have been with the Jets longer, by a year, and the faces around the locker room have come and gone.
But Harris has — quietly — been a constant for the Jets.
"There's nothing like game day and you're with these guys you go through hell all week with and you come out on Sunday, that's what you play for," Harris said. "Tackles? Everybody can make a tackle. That's nothing special. But being out there playing and that camaraderie, that's the best thing about what I do."
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