SPRING HILL — The Fox Chapel Middle School football team gathered in the cafeteria recently to hear Jacksonville Jaguars rookie DuJuan Harris tell them about the job many of them would like to have someday.
The NFL running back said he had wanted to be a professional football player since he was a student at Pine Grove Elementary School. Harris, 23, then asked for a show of hands as to who wanted to play professional ball. More than half the hands shot up.
"If you want to be great, it's a lot of work. It's real tough," Harris said. "It all starts where you are right now. You've got to take care of your body.
"Don't eat a lot of junk food. You can't be eating candy all the time. Don't eat out too much. Definitely eat breakfast. You've got to eat good food. You've got to feed your body."
Harris said he ran track to build his speed. He started lifting weights when he got to Central High School, after West Hernando Middle School.
Also important, Harris said, is building relationships.
"I had a great relationship with all my teachers," he said.
Then, when he needed help, they were happy to give it.
He also noted that young people need to be willing to seek help. "Don't be embarrassed to ask," he said.
Harris stressed the importance of education and appropriate behavior.
"If you like playing football, keep your grades up," he said.
He cautioned the students about the dangers of bad choices.
"That's not the kind of life I wanted," he said. "You've got to be strong-minded because you're going to be around a lot of negativity."
His motto, he said, is "Control the things you can control."
Harris attended Troy University in Troy, Ala., and plans to take the nine credit hours he needs to earn his criminal justice degree this summer.
As a product of the Hernando County school district, Harris said he stopped by Fox Chapel to give back to the community.
"Kids need someone to look up to," he said. "I'm here to let them know there is hope (and) to keep their dreams alive.
"This is home. I grew up here."
That was obvious when Fox Chapel sixth-grade math teacher Gina Hall stopped to greet him.
"Your mom keeps me informed in the beauty shop," Hall told Harris.