Marcell Harris said after the San Francisco 49ers selected him in the sixth round of the NFL draft that he never lost sight of his dreams and goals despite the hardships he's endured.
But when San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan called to let him know he was going to be the 184th selection in the draft, Harris still found it hard to believe.
"I was like, 'Aw man, stop messing with me,'" Harris recalled.
Harris and Florida Gators teammate Johnny Townsend heard their names called during the third day of the draft and, as usual, Central Florida again gained more representation among football's elite as NFL draft picks.
Four more former Central Florida area high school players were added to NFL rosters via free agency and those players have great opportunities to make their roster spots stick.
For Harris, who played at three different schools as a high school All-American — South Lake, West Orange and Dr. Phillips — the road has been bumpy. Whenever everything seemed to be going his way, something would derail his positive momentum.
He missed his final five high school games at DP, as well as the 2013 Under Armour All-American Game, after suffering a knee injury. The injury lingered and he was redshirted during his freshman year at Florida in 2013. He played a backup role in his next two seasons and was primed to be a major part of the Gators secondary during the 2016 campaign.
As a redshirt junior, Harris led UF in tackles and had a breakout game in the Outback Bowl against Iowa, pointing to what many thought would be a senior season more indicative of the expectations he had heading into college.
Then bad luck hit again. A torn Achilles tendon just before the season started put him out for the year. He could have applied for an extra season via medical hardship or start getting ready for the NFL Draft.
He did the latter, and now he's a 49er.
"Through adversity you can either let it make you or break you, but I chose to overcome it through hard work and dedication," Harris said.
It's an incredible testament to determination. Harris stayed true to his plan and he finally reaped the benefits Saturday.
"I'm definitely beyond blessed. Words can't even really explain it. It's surreal," Harris said. "To go through what I had to go through and to actually make it to where I'm at now, man, I'm beyond blessed."
The most trying part was the period of time when he should have been having an incredible redshirt senior season, but he once again found himself on crutches and stationary bikes.
"I wouldn't say it was so much difficult. I was just anxiously awaiting my chance to get back on the field because I knew what I could do," Harris said. "My ceiling is high and I knew coming into the season [last year] I was going to be one of the best safeties coming out and I still think that."
That's the mentality he needed. It allowed him to trudge forward, to get through the rehabilitation he had already come to know so well.
"It was just a lot of dedication and hard work put into all the rehab and motivational things I had to do to keep my mind right, to keep myself going in getting ready for the next level," Harris said.
Even though he had plenty of opportunities to feel sorry for himself or to begin thinking he was snake-bitten no matter what he did, Harris never let it get to him.
"Nah, I never feel that way. God, he doesn't make any mistakes," Harris said. "Through my injuries I feel like I got way smarter. Watching game film, I know things that I didn't know before.
"I also got to work on my body in ways I never thought I'd be able to work on it. I feel like I'm way stronger , faster … there are a lot of things that have gone into it."
The phone call from the 49ers and conversation Saturday with Shanahan were the culmination of all of that hard work.
"I wasn't sure who I was talking to when the call came in," said Harris, whose father, Mike Harris, also played at Florida, and whose younger brother, Sevyn Banks, will be a freshman cornerback at Ohio State this fall. "Coach Shanahan was just telling me we're interested in you and we're going to take you with this next pick. … I said, 'Stop playing with me,' and I figured it was all fun and games.
"But no, he was serious about it and he said they can't wait to get me up there and be a Niner."
And with that the family could celebrate and take a deep, collective breath. He has endured plenty of trying times, so the celebration was sweet.
"Man, emotions were through the roof," said Harris, who became the third Dr. Phillips safety to be drafted into the NFL since 2014, joining Green Bay's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Buffalo's Matt Milano. "Mom, she started busting out crying, and we had my little brother here. … It was good to have my family all here with me to go through this. It was all unbelievable.
"It's great for my little brother to see what it's going to be like for him in these next few years."
Other Central Floridians joining the NFL this past weekend as free-agent signees were: WR Jeff Badet (Orlando Freedom, Kentucky, Oklahoma) to the Vikings, LB Jerod Fernandez (Lake Mary, NC State) to the Redskins, DE-LB Trent Harris (Winter Mark, Miami) to the Patriots and DB Chris Board (Orlando Timber Creek, North Dakota State) to the Ravens.
Free agents can also make their mark at the next level, as former Lake Brantley star running back Tion Green found out last year with the Lions. He's still on the roster and scored two touchdowns last season.
Chris Hays covers college football and recruiting for the Sentinel. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.