Big Man on Practice
By Janet Weeks

(This article was published in the March 6, 1999 issue of TV Guide and is copyright protected. No copyright infringement is intended by this duplication. This is for entertainment purposes only.)

Cool, intense and quietly sexy, former college football star Steve Harris scores major points on The Practice

As anyone whoís navigated the social mine-fields of adolescence can attest, itís tough to straddle two cliques at once. Cheerleaders donít hang out with chess-club members. Rebels donít run for student-body president. And football players donít recite Shakespearean sonnets on the sidelines.

Unless the football player is Steve Harris, who, as a student at Northern Illinois University in the late Ď80s, alternated between hitting quarterbacks on the field and hitting his marks onstage. Now 33, his glory days on campus gone, Harris is hearing the cheers for his portrayal of intense, fast-talking attorney Eugene Young on the ABC series The Practice (Sundays, 10 P.M./ET), created by David E. Kelley.

As brawny and brainy Eugene, Harris is now giving viewers something to talk about-a larger-than life character who keeps Dylan McDermottís brash Bobby Donnell toeing the moral line. "When he walked in David [Kelley] saw his talent," says executive producer Jeffrey Kramer. "You couldnít take yours eyes off of him. He read, and we all knew he would be Eugene."

Harris disciplined himself early, devoting his time to football and academics as child growing up on Chicagoís West side. He remembers tossing a ball with his father, John, a bus driver, as early as age 4. "I was enamored with football," he says. "I think I fell in love with it because my dad used to watch it all the time. And I loved my father. I loved to watch games with him."

"My folks said I could go to any high school I wanted to, and I picked St. Joseph because I thought I could be the Isaiah Thomas to their football program," says Harris. "I knew if I went to that school I had a good opportunity to get to college."

But he had to keep his grades up to play football, a condition imposed on Harris and his younger brother, Sherwin now 29 and also an actor, by their stay-at-home mother, Mattie. "My mom kept us in line about our grades," Harris says.

"Whatever we were allowed to do was predicated on the grades we had. If we got into [academic] trouble, then something had to be cut. I adored football, so I made sure my grades were good."

At Northern Illionois University, Harris switched to playing linebacker. After taking a drama class because "I literally thought it would be an easy A," Harris landed a starring role in the university's production of "Master Harold and the Boys." His friends on the football team were supportive of his interest in acting, he says, even though they teased him.

"The jocks had the 'fairy' jokes, and the drama team had the 'dumb jock' jokes. But one thing about it: The football players came to see me act. The actors never went to a football game."

A torn ankle ligament dashed Harris's aspirations of playing pro ball, prompting him to pursue his other passion: He earned a master's degree in theater at the University of Delaware. "The beauty of being 33 is that I'm still acting, but football players my age are retiring," he says. (Harris can be seen as an internal-affairs detective in this April's film remake of The Mod Squad.)

So he's defending colleagues in the courtroom instead of on the field, and cracking jokes on-set instead of cracking his opponents' heads. "It's truly a pleasure to go to work," says Harris, as he prepares to head home. "I'm having a ball."

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