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Written By Sam Ekstrom (ZoneCoverage.com)
Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen
EAGAN — Any talented NFL safety understands the importance of recovering.
As wide receivers look to cross them up with full-speed cuts across the middle of the field, the safety’s job is to see the ball, get to the man, make the play. One misstep and the ball is over their head.
Time to recover.
Vikings safety Anthony Harris didn’t find himself out of position too often in 2018, however. The 28-year-old former undrafted free agent out of Virginia finished as the third-highest-ranked safety, according to Pro Football Focus. His grade of 89.0 — bolstered by three interceptions, six passes defended and strong run defense mark in nine starts — was considered the highest on a Vikings defense packed with high-end talent.
In addition to crediting coaches, teammates and his own work ethic that have put him in a place to be a long-term fixture at safety, Harris might say that he’s figured out the best way to recover off the field.
That’s why he and three other partners have invested in a cryotherapy business in Richmond, Va.
“I did cryo before the team had cryo,” Harris said in an interview with Zone Coverage.
During the 2017 offseason, Harris became a co-owner at CryoRVA in his hometown after using it several times as a patient. The boutique-style clinic opened up in late 2016 and is soon to start a mobile unit that can bring its recovery technology to college sporting events, cross country meets or marathons.
In a nutshell, CryoRVA requires patients to stand in temperatures -240 to -320 degrees Fahrenheit for two to three minutes. This sends blood to the body’s core and eventually redistributes the blood back to the body’s extremities while flushing it of toxins.
Cryo is one of the myriad competitive advantages the modern athlete is pursuing, and Harris is a big believer. Many players get massages, like Everson Griffen, who said in 2017 he gets a four-hour treatment after games. An increasing number of players try cupping, which essentially stimulates blood circulation by using suction cups that leave purple circles on the skin. Harris says he’ll go for a cryo treatment at least once a week during the season and frequently throughout the offseason.
“Dropping the temperature is pretty much having a psychological effect,” described Harris, “where your body thinks you’re about to go into hypothermia, so what it tells itself is, ‘I need to burn energy,’ which is burning carbs, using the stuff that’s in my body to create blood circulation and heat myself back up, so I would say from there you won’t feel any soreness.”
Harris and his partners each have different roles in the business. The Vikings safety gets back home periodically during the offseason but can’t be as involved during the season that occupies him from late July until past the new year.
Nonetheless, he gives input on where he believes CryoRVA should be focusing and helps them reach out to college students. He also assists with some of their marketing efforts.
“For me, specifically, being a former college athlete, we do have a nice college clientele,” Harris said, “so we’re just trying to figure out how to be most flexible with the different customers and catering to the different people. So I have input on that side, me being a professional athlete and a previous student athlete. And in marketing as well, I like to do photography and drone shooting and stuff like that, so I try to incorporate some of those things and help out wherever I can.”
CryoRVA offers more than just one big freeze machine. They have localized treatments, skin treatments, facials and Normatec, a compression tool. Depending on the service, one session costs $45-50.
“I’ve had people come in who have diabetes, who have poor blood circulation,” said Harris, “and they come in and if they’re having poor circulation with their ankles, we can specifically target that area and get that blood flowing in there.”
Harris uses the Vikings’ cryo room when he’s at TCO Performance Center — one of the many perks of the team’s new facility — but said he gets a little claustrophobic going into the enclosed chamber. At CryoRVA the machine only covers the body below the neck. Minnesota’s system is also electrically powered, while CryoRVA uses nitrogen.
Because of the complete exposure in the chamber the Vikings use balmier temperatures … around -190 degrees Fahrenheit.
“We’ve had guys go in for three minutes,” said team trainer Eric Sugarman after the opening of the facility. “And anyone who’s ever gone in there has started to dance.”
It’s tough to deny that Harris’s efforts have paid off in his durability. He’s played in all but one game over the past three seasons, making 15 starts combined starts and taking over for the injured Andrew Sendejo in 2018.
His safety partner Harrison Smith — another cryo advocate — is happy to see Harris’s career continue to trend upward.
“There’s so many different guys and different stories, whether you were a high draft pick, undrafted, late round, whatever,” Smith said after a recent training camp practice. “At the end of the day, if you’re not making any plays you’re not going to stick around long, but the guys that are late-round picks and free agent guys, they just don’t have as many chances. So those stories [like Harris], there’s just a little more to them.”
Both of Harris’s ventures are approaching pivotal years. If CryoRVA does well with its mobile unit, they may consider expanding the business. As a football player, Harris enters a contract year with the Vikings. The organization has decisions to make on several key defensive players and may not have the cap space to retain everyone.
Regardless, if Harris performs as he did in 2018, a long-term contract could be beckoning either in Minnesota or elsewhere.
“Now that I’m in that position I won’t change much,” Harris said. “My preparation will still be there, my work ethic will still be there, how I treat my teammates and the people in the building will still be there. I’ll just continue to increase my focus.”