The Bengals aren't new to what Michigan State defensive players are capable of. Darqueze Dennard and Domata Peko are entering their third and 11th years with the Bengals respectively, after being stand-out players for the Spartans. This year, the Bengals added another MSU defensive player, this time, a linebacker, via undrafted free agency. And if Darien Harris is anything like his fellow-Spartans, he could have a long future ahead with the Bengals.
Harris was a two-year starter and captain for Michigan State in 2015, a year in which he helped the team make the College Football Playoff and post a 12-2 record. At MSU, Harris recorded 154 tackles (13 for a loss), 1 sack, 1 interception, 4 passes defensed and 1 fumble recovery in 33 total games played from 2013-2015. He also played in every game in 2012 on special team after redshirting the 2011 season.
Harris actually spent three years as teammates with Dennard, who he says is already helping him out in Cincinnati.
"I see him every day and that’s a testament to our Michigan State background," Harris told Cincy Jungle. "I chose to go to Michigan State for the family atmosphere and Queze has definitely shown that since I've been in Cincinnati. He was a captain of our team and a guy I already looked up to."
Dennard isn't alone in welcoming the young Spartan to the Bengals.
"If you look at a guy like Domata who has been here for years and another MSU guy, his welcoming for me has been huge in transitioning from college to the pros," Harris said. "All the veterans are nice, generous and have done a great job of bringing us along."
The Bengals veterans are known to take the younger guys under the wings and show them the ropes, so while this comes as no surprise, it is nice to hear. And, Harris has wasted no time getting to know his position-mates. Last week, the Bengals linebackers, veterans and rookies alike, took a cycling class.
"The spin class was an interesting time," Harris said. "As rookies we did it, and it was a great bonding experience for the entire linebacker core. It was incredibly challenging. A lot of guys, like myself, had never done a spin class before."
But while spin may not have been on the top of the to-do lists for any of the Bengals linebackers, Harris acknowledged that he's willing to do anything to get in better condition... and he admitted, the class was a fun time and great experience, even though some of the linebackers were hesitant.
Before the NFL Draft, Harris had formed a relationship with Jim Haslett, the Bengals' new linebackers coach. "I had been talking to Coach Haslett a lot. He reached out to me after my Pro Day at East Lansing," Harris said. "I felt I had made a connection with him pretty early on so I knew they [the Bengals] were interested. Draft day is unpredictable but I built a quick relationship with Coach Haslett and everything worked out pretty well."
Harris joins a Bengals team that's been to five consecutive trips to the playoffs after a successful college experience at MSU, including two Big 10 Championships.
"I'm ready to win and came in from a winning environment in college," Harris said. "I know what it takes to be successful as a team. I was a team captain at MSU last year. So I'm going to come in from day one and do anything I can to help the team win and be a positive influence on the team."
Harris is new to Cincinnati and had never been to Cincinnati prior to rookie mini-camp but he knows a bunch of guys who went to Moeller High School from MSU and MSU defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett is from Cincinnati as well.
"Knowing guys from here, from this area has been a big help already," Harris said. "I feel like I have a big family here even though my family is in D.C."
And, though Harris hasn't had a chance to have some chili since arriving in Cincinnati this May, he has had Cincinnati chili in the past.
"Donavon Clark (MSU and now Chargers offensive guard) had his parents bring Skyline to our OSU game; I had it for the first time there and I'm looking forward to having it again here," Harris said. "The noodles were my favorite part. Everyone from Cincinnati always talks about Skyline."
If Harris is able to prove to Bengals coaches that he's worth keeping on the roster, he should have plenty more opportunities to enjoy Skyline Chili in the Queen City.