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Wednesday - 10/10/2001

By Jeff Seidel
NFL Insider

(Oct. 10, 2001) -- Corey Harris has shrugged off the pressure of being the lone new starter on the Baltimore Ravens' record-setting defense to become a pillar of strength at strong safety for the defending Super Bowl champions.The real pressure comes off the field, where Harris is dealing with his wife's battle with brain cancer.

Harris missed nearly three weeks of training camp after his wife, Antoinette, underwent surgery to have a brain tumor removed. He rejoined the team during the preseason but has been flying home to Nashville every Sunday night after games and returning to Baltimore on Tuesday evening.

It's been a grueling schedule, but Harris says his wife's strength has kept him going.

"She's been doing well, and she doesn't want anyone to feel sorry for her," he says. "She's a tough cookie, and because of her mental toughness I've been able to focus. Obviously, if she was a wreck, there'd be no way that I could come out here and do what I'm attempting to do."

Harris said doctors discovered the tumor this summer after his wife suffered seizures while visiting Los Angeles. It was quickly removed, and Harris left the team to be at her side.

When he returned to practice, Harris and Ravens coach Brian Billick worked out a schedule in which the 10-year veteran gets Monday off (in addition to the usual Tuesday) so he can spend two days with his wife in Nashville. The missed practice time hasn't seemed to hurt Harris, who was named AFC defensive player of the week after forcing a fumble, recovering another, and making the clinching interception in a 20-13 week 3 victory over Denver.

"Corey is going to kill coaches because he has had two of the best games I have ever seen with virtually no training camp," Billick said after that game. "There is going to be a real lobby for everyone to say, 'Hey, let's just blow off training camp and go right to the regular season.' Particularly with all the circumstances we've talked about, Corey was just outstanding."

This has been a breakthrough season on the field for Harris, whose NFL r�sum� included stops in Houston, Green Bay, Seattle, and Miami before he landed in Baltimore in 1998.

He first impressed the Ravens as a kickoff returner, leading the AFC in 1998 with a 27.6-yard average and setting a club single-game record with 243 yards (on 8 returns) against Minnesota. Harris remained in his dual role of kick returner and extra defensive back for the next two seasons. He became a starter in 2001 when strong safety Kim Herring left for St. Louis after the Super Bowl.

Harris's performance this season, especially in the face of such difficult off-the-field circumstances, has been a source of inspiration to his teammates.

"His wife, Ann, and I are friends," linebacker Ray Lewis says. "He knows we're behind him, and it's just good to see a brother like that keep on going through things, be able to fight, and have the game he had against Denver."

Says cornerback Duane Starks: "Just for the guys around him to see him overcome stuff like that, it makes us stronger."

Harris, whose 31 tackles rank second on the team, is optimistic about his future on the field. He's also hopeful about his wife's condition. As of late last week, she had yet to begin chemotherapy treatments and might not need them. Husband and wife have their fingers crossed.

�Because of her toughness, I've been able to feel comfortable enough to come and play football and be able to go back and forth," Harris says. "The main thing is we've prayed about it. We've put it in the hands of God, and we're comfortable with where we are right now."

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