Even though he spends most of his Saturdays routinely snagging passes in spaces tightly patrolled by hit-sticking safeties, Maurice Harris describes himself as a cautious kind of guy. So when his girlfriend wasn’t feeling well last winter, when Kayla Rodgers’ body started sending suspicious signals, Harris and Rodgers didn’t hesitate to schedule a visit to the doctor.
While vacationing in Harris’ hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina, the couple arranged an appointment. When they arrived at the office, the doctor ran a few tests, eventually discovering the reason Rodgers was feeling so off.
She was pregnant with Harris’ daughter.
The two locked eyes in disbelief. This wasn’t planned. Harris, a 21-year-old redshirt sophomore, was still more than a year away from graduating. And Rodgers, a few years older than her boyfriend, was already taking care of her first toddler. The couple didn’t even live in the same city.
Then, disbelief dissipated, and a different feeling took hold.
“It was just happiness,” Harris says. “We just looked over at each other and smiled.”
Harris first met Rodgers, the older sister of former Cal and current Green Bay Packers’ tight end Richard Rodgers, on a visit to Berkeley about five years ago. Harris, a good friend and teammate of Richard Rodgers, was introduced to his sister. After arriving on campus as a student in 2011, Harris began dating Rodgers, who lived in the Concord area, the following year.
After the doctor’s appointment, they met with Harris’ parents at IHOP for lunch. It was there that they told his family. At first, the reaction was similar to his and Rodgers’ earlier that day. But just like at the doctor’s office, disbelief quickly turned into congratulations.
When the couple returned to the East Bay, Harris broke the news to his teammates and coaches.
“It was surreal at first,” says wide receiver Bryce Treggs. “It was in a casual manner, like ‘Hey, I’m having a child.’ We were like, ‘Nah, you’re playing.’ And he was like, ‘Nah, I’m really having a child.’ I’m like, ‘Damn, Maurice. That’s crazy.’ ”
Wide receiver Chris Harper, who considers Harris his best friend, says Harris was still surprised by the news when he told him, but he was clearly happy.
“He was like, ‘Bro, I’m about to have a baby,’ ” Harper says. “It was just crazy.”
In order to counter the craziness of the situation, Harris, Rodgers and her first daughter moved into a two-bedroom apartment on San Pablo Avenue later that winter. Despite the change in his living situation and despite his frenetic schedule of school and football, Harris dedicated himself to Rodgers.
“It changes a lot,” Harris says. “When you’re not living with someone, then all of a sudden, you’re living with someone. You see them everyday. You go through a lot.”
Many nights Harris hightailed his way to the grocery store to indulge his girlfriend’s cravings. Red Vines and sparkling water were usually on his shopping list.
On Aug. 11, a few days before the due date, the late-night grocery store runs came to a close. On that particular Monday afternoon, the couple — along with Harris’ parents — drove 10 minutes down the road to Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.
Bailey Harris was on her way.
He tried to compose himself, but Harris couldn’t help it. As he held his daughter in his arms for the first time, his emotions erupted.
“Some tears here and there,” Harris says. “It was just something you’ve never felt before. I was in shock, seeing my actual kid there.”
The family stayed at Alta Bates for a couple days before heading home. The car ride with the newborn, while short, was a nerve-racking one for Harris.
But a few days after Aug. 11, Bailey was forced to make the journey back to Alta Bates. Noticing that their baby’s skin had a hint of yellow, Harris and Rodgers called the doctor, who told them to wait to see if her condition improved before bringing her back in. It didn’t.
“We didn’t really know what was going on,” Harris says. “We didn’t know what really was wrong with her. Just having to go to the hospital, making sure the baby is OK, it’s just kind of scary.”
The problem turned out to be jaundice, a usually harmless condition commonly found in newborns. Bailey was fine. Today, the biggest issue facing Harris and Rodgers is still a common one: getting their 2-month-old baby to sleep.
“As soon as I hear her cry at night, I get up and go check on her and make sure she’s alright,” Harris says. “I’m very cautious about that.”
Fatherhood has its challenges for a 21-year-old Harris, though. He begins his day early, usually around 8 a.m. He grabs breakfast before school because he’s typically in classes from morning until lunchtime. After breaking for lunch, he has football meetings starting at 2 p.m. until practice starts at 4:15 p.m. He’s usually back home at about 8 p.m.
By then, Bailey is sometimes already asleep.
“He’s handled it pretty well,” Harper says. “Like, I don’t know what I would do if I had a baby. He spends a lot of hours up here with us. And it takes away a lot of time from helping his girlfriend take care of the baby and just being there for the baby. I know it’s tough.”
Playing football also means spending some weekends away from his family. Harris frequently uses FaceTime to remain in touch when he travels to away games, though Bailey doesn’t really understand what’s happening. Her vocabulary consists of “weird noises” and crying, her movements restricted to crawling, squirming and kicking.
Still, Harris can’t believe how fast Bailey is growing.
“Every day you come home, and it seems like she’s getting bigger,” Harris says. “We were just sitting there on the couch, hanging out as a family, and all of a sudden she was laying there and she raised up — she lifted herself up. I was just like ‘Dang, you’re not even that old. How’re you doing that?’ ”
Watching Bailey continue to grow is at the forefront of Harris’ mind. He’ll graduate in May, and he’ll have one more season of eligibility at Cal. He hopes the NFL is in his future, like his cousin Keenan Allen. Regardless of whether that dream comes to fruition, he knows he’s going to have to find a way to support his new family.
“I have to be the backbone, the father in the family,” Harris says. “It’s a lot on me, but … I’m not nervous, I’m excited. I know we’re going to have a lot of good memories, a lot of fun times. I get to see the baby grow up, so everything is good.”