Damien Harris didn’t come back for his senior season just to win an SEC championship, but he wouldn’t turn down the opportunity.
Alabama’s veteran running back was on a team last season that won the national championship, but didn’t win the league title along the way. That seems to be the only bit of unfinished business left over, but it’s not Harris’ priority.
“Our biggest goal is to win every game that we play, beat every team that we face,” he said last week at SEC Media Days in Atlanta. “If that comes with winning an SEC championship, then, yes, I look forward to it.”
The product of Richmond, Kentucky, has rushed for 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons, going for exactly that number on 135 carries with 11 touchdowns last year, an average of 7.4 yards per carry.
No running back in Alabama history has rushed for 1,000 yards in three seasons: Harris joins Johnny Musso (1970-71), Bobby Humphrey (1986-87) and Shaun Alexander (1998-99) in doing it twice. But that’s not why he came back either.
“Any sort of success I have, I always defer to (the offensive line) because without them I wouldn’t have the ability to do what I do,” he said. “A lot of times people think as running backs, it’s all about what we do. You look at those guys up front, there are a lot of times – not just myself, but all of our running backs – we’re untouched for 10 or 15 yards. That’s not because we’re playing against bad defense. Our offensive line is that good.”
So why did he come back, when he surely would have been drafted by the National Football League had he left after his junior season?
I decided to come back because for three years I was very fortunate and blessed to be part of this program,” he said. “Everything we went through, winning the national championship, it all kind of puts things in perspective for me.
“I had to ask myself, ‘Am I ready to leave this place yet?’ And I’ve had my great accomplishments here as an individual, as a team, but I just wasn’t ready to give it up yet. So I wanted to come back for another year and enjoy my senior year, be a winner for this program.”
That means, as an elder statesman, he has to be a leader.
“That’s definitely something that I’ve emphasized, that I need to improve on the most,” he said. “I’m kind of a guy that likes to do my own work and stay off to myself, kind of do what I do and go home. Now I realize, being a veteran on this team and being somebody that people look at, I have to focus on how I can positively affect my teammates. How can I set that standard? How can I set that example?
“It’s about more than myself, it’s about how I can influence 105 other guys on the team.”
Lineman Ross Pierschbacher has been blocking for Harris for the last three seasons. He admires the running back’s mastery of UA’s schemes.
“He just has such a knowledge of the offense that he understands everything we’re doing,” Pierschbacher said. “Communication is just night and day between some guys, so yeah it’s just good to have that experience back there.”
Harris is glad to be back there, and back at Alabama for one more season.
“It’s like nowhere else I’ve ever been,” he said.
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224