A New England Patriots star on never giving up — and giving back

Photo courtesy of Russ Mezikofsky Photography

If you’re a fan of the New England Patriots, you recognize him as ‘The Closer’ since he’s known for coming out of nowhere and making interceptions that win the game. But there’s more to Boston defensive back star Duron Harmon than his impressive football skills. He’s also extremely passionate about giving back to his community, especially when it comes to awareness around autism. Since his nephew suffers from this condition, he started hosting an annual karaoke event in Boston that benefits Autism Speaks, and takes time to visit schools throughout the country to raise spirits and shift stereotypes. He took some time on the sidelines to talk with The Ladders about his background, his career advice — and what’s next: 

How did you make your way to becoming a Patriot? How did you build your career?

Duron Harmon: Football was always a part of my life, I played in high school at Caesar Rodney High in Camden, Delaware before beginning my collegiate career. While majoring in Labor Studies at Rutgers University, I played football all four years earning All-Big-East First Team honors my junior and senior year. Fortunately, NFL teams took notice of my football skills and work ethic on the field which resulted in the New England Patriots drafting me in the third round (91st overall) in the 2013 NFL Draft. I worked hard through my first NFL training camp earning a spot on the 53-man roster at strong safety and started a handful of games my rookie year.

What have you learned about career growth from being a professional football player? How have they shaped you?

DH: One is to never give up. When we look back at Super Bowl 51, when we were down 28 to 3 with three minutes left, I think the odds for us to come back and win that game was .001 percent. All we did was believe in ourselves, believe in our coaching, believe in our training and in our techniques that we could do it, we could come back and we could win. In many people’s eyes, it was impossible, but in our eyes, we had the faith and we believed in ourselves to know it was possible to come back. 

In life, everybody goes through tough times but think the people who really come out on the other side are the people who never give up and continue to keep fighting no matter the situation and no matter how it looks. I continue to keep fighting until I can crawl out of any tough situation to get to a more positive place. 

I’ve also learned you get what you put into this profession. There are a lot of talented players and coaches in the league, but the players who stick around the longest are the ones that work on perfecting their craft and learn how to be a better player. And, they learn how to continue to make strides and don’t let themselves become complacent or be okay with being the same. 

I think, again, when you just translate it to life, the most successful people put a lot into what they want in life. If you want happiness you have to be positive and work for your future. You get out what you put in and in the end those are two lessons that have really helped me on and off the field.

What inspired you to become involved with Autism Speaks?

DH: When I found out my nephew is autistic, I began to learn more about the resources that were available to help my family and others and realized there are not as many as I thought. Since then, I have become an unofficial ambassador for the cause and Autism Speaks New England. 

My wife, Christine, and I decided to host a karaoke fundraiser here in Boston with my teammates and fans to support Autism Speaks and The League School, a local school here in the Boston suburbs that work with autistic children from ages three to 22. We were able to donate funds for 500 iPads so the school could improve and grow their programming. 

Similar to football and wanting to play my best for the team, off the field I try to be the best role model for my kids, and one way I do this is by volunteering my time in the community to provide experiences and resources for autistic children and their families.