The state of Alabama still provides much of the framework for Alabama’s roster. Five starters on this year’s team are in-state products.
But the Crimson Tide’s outreach into other states has created a legacy that can feed on itself at times. Five starters are from Louisiana as well, and four are from Florida.
Then there’s the pair from Kentucky: running back Damien Harris and right tackle Jedrick Wills. Harris was the top recruit from the Bluegrass state in 2015. Wills was the No. 1 prospect there in 2017. Alabama plucked them both despite the fact that both players were from within an hour of the University of Kentucky.
“I knew Jed before we both got here,” Harris said earlier this season. “We had a little bit of a relationship. Obviously when I committed here and ended up coming here and he was looking at coming here and he’s looking at a bunch of other schools, I always kept in touch with him and see how he felt about our program and obviously tried to encourage him to come here. And fortunately enough, he did.”
Wills said he first knew Harris when he was a freshman at Lafayette High School in Lexington and Harris was a star recruit. At this point, the two have known each other for five or six years.
It’s a bit of an unlikely pairing: They’re the two highest-rated players from the state of Kentucky in the last decade, according to the 247Sports Composite ratings. They ended up playing together, but did so several hours from home.
“It was pretty cool,” Wills said earlier this month. “Being from Kentucky, there’s not really too many people who go outside the state and go to like real big schools. Seeing he had that opportunity kind of opened up my eyes. I could see I had the chance to do the same thing.”
Harris ended up serving as Wills’ recruiting host on some of his trips to Tuscaloosa. They already had a relationship when Wills’ recruiting heated up.
Wills said he grew up going to Kentucky games. The Wildcats and Tennessee play annually in what was once a rivalry series with a trophy on the line for both teams. The trophy was discontinued in 19981, likely before Wills could have been seeing the Wildcats and Volunteers play. He said he didn’t grow up hating Tennessee. He knows Alabama’s history with Tennessee too, but said it doesn’t register like some other games on the schedule.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a rivalry, but it’s definitely a big game,” he said this week. “It’s not equal to Auburn, but it’s still a big game. I wouldn’t consider it a rivalry.”
This season, Harris’ senior campaign, will be the only one in which the two are starters together. But they’ve been closer for longer than just this fall.
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” Harris said. “We train together back home. We work out together. Just seeing him have success and seeing him improve as a player, it’s exciting for our entire team.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.
1 Kentucky and Tennessee played for a beer barrel painted blue, white and orange. A Kentucky player was killed while driving drunk shortly before the 1998 meeting before the two teams and the trophy hasn’t been awarded since. Tennessee was in the midst of a 26-year win streak in the rivalry that continued until 2011 at the time. The Vols have the barrel in storage.