Born in Akron, Ohio on May 4, 1978, James Henry Harrison, Jr. is the youngest of Mildred and the late James Harrison, Sr.'s 14 children. In acknowledgment of his well-known public demeanor, he is nicknamed "Deebo" after the menacing character in the popular movie, 'Friday."
James attended Coventry High School in Akron prior to attending Kent State University, where he majored in general studies. At Kent State, he was a first-team All-Mid-American Conference selection at outside linebacker, was third in the league's Defensive Player of the Year balloting, and he led the MAC with 15.0 sacks and ranked second in the conference with 20.0 tackles for loss in 2001.
Despite his dominant college career, James' path to becoming an NFL star and a Pittsburgh Steelers legend was a rocky one. He went undrafted in the 2002 NFL Draft, but was signed by the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent that April. Over the next two years, he was cut four times from the Steelers' and Baltimore Ravens' practice squads and active rosters, and in 2003, played for the Rhein Fire in the NFL Europe developmental league.
After being cut the fourth time, James considered hanging up his cleats, but was given one more shot when the Steelers signed him during training camp in 2004. After playing mostly on special teams that year, he started his first game in Cleveland on November 14. He started in place of his teammate, Joey Porter, after Porter was ejected for participating in an on-field fight before the game. James recorded his first career sack in that game, bringing down Cleveland Browns QB Jeff Garcia for a three-yard loss.
James' NFL career would come full-circle in Cleveland in 2016, where he recorded his 77.5th career sack, and became the Steelers' All-Time Sack Leader with a takedown of Browns QB Cody Kessler for a five-yard loss. He ended the season with a total of 79.5 sacks, and also became the Steelers' leader in postseason sacks in 2016, recording his 11th postseason sack in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game vs. the Kansas City Chiefs.
In addition to his record-breaking year in 2016, James' legendary career includes a massive collection of accomplishments:
James is dedicated to maintaining his body in top form, and credits this commitment for allowing him to play at such a high level this late in his career.
In addition to his early-morning workouts, James employs a regular rotation of massage, chiropractic and acupuncture therapists. He also adheres to a strict diet. Taking into consideration of what he's been able to accomplish, his efforts have been well-worth it.
James has developed a semi-cult following with his regular social media posts that give fans a glimpse into his intense and unparalleled workout sessions and body treatments. His posts are frequently reposted, aired and covered by media outlets around the world.
James has many business interests outside of his football career, including commercial real estate development, which he has been involved in since 2009. He is owner & founder of his merchandise company, DEEBO, LLC, which primarily sells his official workout 'DeeboGear.' He is pursuing strength training, and is a sponsored athlete for the OptimumEFX brand of supplements he used throughout his career. He is also interested in acting. James appeared in the 2013 season of HBO's 'Hard Knocks' series, on 'The Steve Harvey Show' on NBC in 2016 and in the 2017 three-part 'Pro Football Arm Wrestling Championship' series on CBS.
In 2017, James played in his 15th NFL season at age 39 with both the Steelers and the Patriots. He made an immediate impact in the Patriots' playoff run that culminated in his 4th career AFC Championship. He started in Super Bowl 52 for the Patriots in Minneapolis, MN, in what would be his final game. James announced his retirement from the NFL in April of 2018, just weeks before his 40th birthday.