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A Salute to the 2020 Alabama Seniors: Najee Harris

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From Shy Recruit to Team Leader.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Notre Dame vs Alabama
Najee makes a Leprechaun Leap.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In 2017, the coaching staffs of Alabama and Michigan were in hot pursuit of 5-star California running back Najee Harris. As a high school sophomore in April of 2015, Harris attended a Bama camp and it was here that he made his commitment to attend the University of Alabama. A year and half later, a frenzy of rumors and misdirection would lead to one of the most dramatic recruitments in college football.

The nation’s No. 2 rated prospect had kept exceptionally quiet about his recruitment. He did not like to do interviews and did not even have a Twitter account. Reporters hounded him at the All-American Bowl in San Antonio as to where he would sign. Much like defenders trying to take him down, Harris deftly side-stepped the incessant questions.

In the end, it came down to what flight he would get on after the game. Harris would either go home to California, fly straight to Alabama or go to Michigan from San Antonio. As it turns out, Harris was on a flight with his new teammate, Tua Tagovailoa.

Confident but not arrogant, Harris took his place on the team donning the hallowed number 22 worn by Alabama’s first Heisman winner Mark Ingram. Despite the presence of Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs, and Bo Scarbrough on the roster, Harris still earned time in all 14 games, rushing 61 times for 370 yards with three touchdowns. The highlight of his season came in the 2nd & 26 game in which he busted out a fourth quarter 35 yard gain to the Georgia 11 that set up a field goal to inch the Tide closer to their dramatic comeback.

In 2018, harris continued to share carries with other Tide running backs but still managed 783 yards on 117 carries, adding four scores. His 6.7 yards per carry was good for 16th best in the nation and second in the SEC.

By the time his junior campaign was done, everyone knew the name Najee Harris. With Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs off to the NFL, Najee became the main ball carrier totaling 1,224 yards on 209 attempts and an eye-catching 13 touchdowns. He also added receiving to his repertoire grabbing 27 balls for 304 yards and another seven scores. He had matching 146 rushing yards performance against both LSU and Auburn. Though he had been hurdling players since his freshman year, the Citrus Bowl against Michigan is when the rest of the world learned of his prowess as an Edwin Moses aficionado.

How apropos is it that the snake oil salesman who tried to steal Bama’s recruit gets to be on the losing end of his 136 yards and a 35-16 thrashing?

After three years in Tuscaloosa and a breakout season in 219, the general assumption was that Harris would be leaving his college days behind and head to the NFL. To assume anything with Najee is to make an ass out of u and me.

“When I make a decision, I stand firm on it,” Harris told reporters before the season. “I don’t have no regrets on it. I wanted to come back with my team and just grind it out through another year. We didn’t know what was going to happen now, but I feel like we now have a really good team. No matter what, I’m so happy that I came back, and I don’t regret nothing.”

When it looked like the doom and gloomers were going to cancel the season, Harris was one of the more prominent players in the #WeWantToPlay movement.

So how does a running back improve on a 1,500 all-purpose yard, 20 touchdown season? How about 1,466 rushing yards for a school record 26 scores and 43 receptions for 425 yards and four more scores in only 13 games against all Power-5 foes? He also was strong in pass-blocking - a vastly underrated skill.

In his senior season, Harris scored multiple touchdowns in nine games. Against Ole Miss, Najee had five rushing scores, and five total (2 rush, 3 rec) versus Florida in the SEC Championship Game. Against Notre Dame, he made the famous Leprechaun Leap en route to a 31-14 rout of the Irish in the playoff.

Harris earned two National Championship rings as he wraps his Crimson Tide career.

He is now Alabama’s career leader for rushing scores with 46, surpassing the previous record of 42 by Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry. He totaled 3,843 career rushing yards to rank atop the Alabama all-time list. His 4,624 all-purpose career yards is second all-time at UA. His average of 6.0 yards per carry for his career ranks third in Crimson Tide history (minimum 400 carries).

Some mock drafts see Harris as a first rounder. Charley Casserly of NFL.com sees him picked at #8.

CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images