Senior defensive back Donavon Harris glides across the stage, captivating the audience with his commanding presence. His booming voice fills Diamond Theatre with an electric energy, immersing the crowd in his every movement.
During his final performance on Lehigh’s stage, a group of boisterous attendees sat front and center.
At first glance, they seemed a little obnoxious. But then, it seemed like they were rooting for Harris. That’s because they are his teammates.
His football teammates.
Harris is also a 6-foot tall, 180-pound football player.
“My dad played football and basketball, and I had a bunch of family members that went to college to go play football, and I thought it was a great opportunity to continue that tradition,” Harris said. “I just saw the rigorous academics and the environment (at Lehigh), and I just thought it was a good fit.”
Harris began his freshman year in the business school. He had always dreamed of starting his own company and his choice of major, economics, came naturally to him.
Soon, however, he started struggling. He didn’t like the courses he was taking and he didn’t like big lectures. So Harris stumbled into the College of Arts and Sciences.
He registered for THTR 011: Introduction to Acting with Department of Theatre professor Kashi Johnson during the spring semester his freshman year.
“I just had a passion for acting class, going over monologues, scripts, whatever,” Harris said. “It kind of took off from there, I never really thought theater would be my major or something I would pursue as a career.”
Johnson approached Harris and told him he was gifted and that he should try out for the upcoming spring play. Harris did, and got the role.
Since then, Harris has been in a performance every spring.
“I say to my students to find somewhere, not even a soft place to land but somewhere where you can make a meaningful impact with your academics in your Lehigh career,” Johnson said. “My advice is to do what you love and trust that the rest will come. If we love it, it is our job to recognize our gifts and to honor it.”
Junior wide receiver Devon Bibbens said Harris took him under his wing when Bibbens was a freshman. Harris, a captain during his senior year, was someone the team looked up to.
Bibbens said Harris makes it fun to play football. He said he is very charismatic and fun to be around.
“When we are on the field, he is just loud as hell,” Bibbens said. “You can definitely tell he is an actor. He is an entertainer is what he is. He knows it’s business when it comes to football and the same way when it comes to plays. I have definitely practiced lines with him. He is always working on his craft. He looks at theater as a grind just as much as he does with football.”
Initially, Harris thought he would receive some criticism from friends and family regarding his choice to pursue something “unconventional.” However, he said everyone has been nothing but supportive of his choice.
Harris said his “double-life” isn’t much of one. He views them as similar to one another.
“You are going to play different roles, different parts,” Harris said. “It is similar to football as well, being able to take the coaching and take what people are telling you and applying it on the stage or applying it on the field. It’s two very different spectrums, but at the same time, you got the same amount of practice time, you are working up to one final show.”
Growing up, Harris said he craved pressure and performed under it well. He said with theatre, all eyes are on the performer, and with football, the whole crowd is watching the athlete.
“Accepting the pressure, embracing the moment and being a leader, not a follower,” Harris said. “And then with football, it’s the same thing. You practice all week, and you prepare for that one game on Saturday and to go out and take on the moment, thousands of fans watching you, wherever you may be.”
For now, Harris is taking a break from football. He plans on pursuing a career in acting and in 10 years, hopes he is established in Hollywood.
“I can’t say I have yet to experience a very specific moment,” Harris said. “So to-be-determined.”