Born: July 2, 1987
He had emerged as an intriguing football talent at a small high school outside of Chicago, didn’t get recruited by major NCAA Division I programs but did catch the eyes of a couple of Mid-American Conference schools and others in the Football Championship Subdivision.
With that, anyone could have assumed that, for Clay Harbor, the National Football League was a long shot. But not him.
“I thought I had the opportunity to become an NFL player after my senior year in high school,” Harbor said, “but at the time I really didn’t know what that meant.”
He soon applied himself even more, transforming his abilities into pro prospect material while at Missouri State, and then went on to a seven-year career in the NFL. That’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Harbor with the Class of 2023.
Harbor won Associated Press All-America honors three times at Missouri State and was an All-American by the Walter Camp Football Foundation in the Football Championship Subdivision. A tight end, he played in the East-West Shrine game in 2009, capping a career in which he was a three-time First Team Missouri Valley Football Conference selection — one of only six MSU players ever to do so.
He became the Bears’ career pass receiving record holder by leading the team in receiving three consecutive years. He set the team tight end records for pass receptions (150) and consecutive games with a pass reception (33).
In 2010, Harbor was a fourth-round selection of the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL Draft and played 98 career games for the Eagles, Jaguars, Lions and Patriots. He hauled in 1,170 yards in receiving and scored eight touchdowns.
It was quite a career for a standout from Dwight Township High School in Illinois. He was then recruited by Terry Allen to go to Missouri State, with Allen having coached previously at Northern Iowa – he was Kurt Warner’s coach – and at the University of Kansas.
“I chose to play at Missouri State because my brother went there the year before me and he enjoyed it,” Harbor said. “I wanted the opportunity to play football with him in college. We always dreamed about playing college sports together.”
Like so many athletes, success didn’t happen overnight, and Harbor had to earn his way – not only for starting time but also to catch the eyes of football scouts.
“I got red-shirted my freshman year. I rarely played as a redshirt freshman but learned a lot,” Harbor said. “I made sure to push myself in the weight room to gain weight and get stronger. I was successful my sophomore and junior year after getting moved to tight end from wide receiver, but only in the passing game.”
It was at that point that Missouri State assistants Sean Coughlin and Bob Montgomery made an even greater impact on Harbor, as they showed him more about the blocking game in order for him to become an all-around tight end.
In essence, he had to learn the proper techniques – and that fearless attitude to block. NFL scouts had started asking about him during his sophomore year.
That next spring, he got the chance in front of scouts at pro-day at Missouri State.
“I ran a 4.5 second 40 and that showed the NFL scouts that I was fast and could stretch the seam of a defense,” Harbor said. “I was able to run routes for all the scouts in NFL and show them I could catch the ball consistently.”
In the NFL, Harbor helped the Eagles win the NFC East his rookie season, as the “Miracle at the Meadowlands” – DeSean Jackson’s punt return – sealed it. He also caught his first TD pass from Michael Vick.
“I enjoyed everything about the NFL – the hard days at training camp, the traveling to the games, the games themselves, the monotonous film study,” Harbor said.
All in all, he credits much to his family – mom, dad, brothers, aunts, uncles and his late grandma, Dorothy.
“When looking back at my NFL career, I always get a bittersweet feeling, a sense that I could’ve done a lot more even though I accomplished a lot,” Harbor said. “Unfortunately, it was cut a bit short due to injuries. But I just want to stress to everyone going after a dream to make sure that you have discipline. The pain of discipline is much less than the pain of regret. Make sure to put your everything into your passions and go after them full force.”