PITTSFORD, N.Y. (WIVB) — While some people spend tons of time trying to find the perfect Christmas gift for loved ones, Deonte Harty had no trouble figuring out his for one special member of his family two years ago because this was something he’s been thinking about since high school.

When the Bills signed Harty in the offseason, fans looking up highlights online might not have found too much video on Deonte Harty. That’s because Deonte Harty hasn’t been Deonte Harty for very long.

Two years ago, Deonte legally changed his last name from Harris to Harty in honor of his stepdad, Marlon Harty.

“We don’t consider him out stepfather, we consider him my real dad,” Deonte told News 4 Sports.

“This is a guy who played the father figure basically all my life. So for me it was a no brainer. He didn’t have any kids of his own, he came and took care of me and my two brothers and so he never got to have a child with his last name so for me it was just a no brainer. I want his name to continue because he’s done so much for me and my family.”

Deonte can’t remember a time when Marlon wasn’t in his life. Marlon and Deonte’s mom, Lisa, have been married for almost two decades. So when Deonte surprised Marlon with the news of his name change on Christmas in 2021, it was a special moment not just for Marlon, but Lisa as well.

“I know for her it meant the world knowing she chose a guy that not only she loves, but her kids love,” Deonte said.

“He tried so hard not to cry, I know when he got in the shower or something he cried but he just tried to be that tough guy but it was just all love. You know he wanted to tear up, you could see it.”

As you can imagine, Deonte has countless memories from his childhood that involve sports. He most remembers Marlon coaching him in football and baseball, having an undefeated team in football and winning a championship plus Marlon paying for and taking him to additional baseball lessons.

“That’s really my hero to be honest, he taught me what it was to be a man. He showed me what hard work was, we used to go days without seeing him because he was working two jobs or three jobs. He really showed me what it was to be a father figure, what it was to be a husband and what it was to just be a hard working man in America,” Deonte shared.

And his mom was front and center as well during all these sporting events, so much that Deonte says he can remember hearing his mom’s voice in the crowd whenever he made a big play either growing up or in college.

So how does Deonte describe his mom?

“Best friend.”

To the point where he said if they don’t talk for a few days people think there’s something wrong.

Deonte’s parents live in Baltimore and would drive the six hours to watch him play college football at Assumption University in Massachusetts. And that was no different in the NFL. They made sure to see him play in New Orleans where he spent the first four seasons of his career with the Saints.

Even though Deonte changed his name towards the end of the 2021 season, the NFL did not recognize it until the following year so last season was the first he played with Harty instead of Harris.

Now he’s in his first season with Buffalo and looking to make a name for himself with the Bills.

“The first day we had camp I had like a little shaky feeling, kind of like homesick because for four years I was in New Orleans so I’m used to, you know, I have a house out there, I’m comfortable there but once I got out here it was just like everything just went away. It just feels good to be here,” Deonte explained.

Deonte’s had a great training camp so far and in line to not only be one of the Bills top five receivers but also could become their primary returner after Nyheim Hines was ruled out for the season. This was Harty’s specialty when he first enter the league as he was a First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl returner.

“I think I told somebody not too long ago I was like I kind of not got away from it but it was just like I’ve just been so focused on trying to play offense. I’m comfortable at the returner, I think I got a little too comfortable so unfortunately what happened to Nyheim is bad, but at the same time now it makes me get into that mindset like this is how you got to the position that you’re in so I’m very fortunate to have that because now I can just go back and be like this is what I do,” Deonte said.

Whatever his role is, you can count on his family cheering him on in the stands at Highmark Stadium and other stadiums around the NFL just as they’ve always done.

Heather Prusak is a sports reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2020. See more of her work here.