Eli Gold, Alabama football announcer, shares update on health status

Running back Damien Harris steps up as Tide's veteran returnee

Terrin Waack
Special to the Advertiser
Alabama running back Damien Harris (34) is upended by Georgia strong safety Dominick Sanders (24) in first half action of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga., on Monday January 8, 2018. (Mickey Welsh / Montgomery Advertiser)

TUSCALOOSA — Alabama running back Damien Harris has already proved he can step up when needed. Now, he might need to speak up.

The rising senior decided to return for his final season and postpone his entry into the NFL draft another year, unlike former teammate Bo Scarbrough.

That makes Harris the oldest — and really the most experienced — player in his position group. He trumps junior-to-be Josh Jacobs and upcoming sophomores Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr.

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“I’ve always been a lead by example kind of guy,” Harris said. “I’m not super vocal, but there comes a point in time where you have to do whatever is best for the team.”

As spring unfolds — Alabama held its second practice Thursday — Harris will get a better idea of what exactly is best. He can remain as is or grow vocally.

Harris’ talent, though, does warrant him a pass to lead by example.

Because he came back, Harris has the chance to become the first UA player with three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He totaled 1,037 in 2016 and precisely 1,000 in 2017.

Having his name linked in such a way could have been a factor when the Richmond, Kentucky, native made the ultimate leave-or-not-to-leave decision.

“To be politically correct, no,” Harris said. “But I’d be lying to you if I told you I hadn’t even thought about it.”

Alabama running back Damien Harris (34) is slowed by Florida State defensive back Derwin James (3) in the Chick-fil-a Classic at the Mercedes - Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga., on Saturday September 2, 2017.

Harris has 2,194 career rushing yards. He’s 1,397 yards from topping Derrick Henry’s record (3,591 from 2013-15) and has a year to do so.

Had Harris left, he wouldn’t have even cracked the top 10, which bottoms out with Bobby Marlow’s 2,560 yards from 1950-52.

Also, the difference in yardage between Harris’ sophomore and junior year isn’t really noteworthy, but he did score nine more rushing touchdowns in the latter season.

“I could give you guys a lot of X's and O's for why I should leave early or why I should stay, but at the end of the day, I felt very blessed to be a part of this program for three years,” Harris said. “This program has been so good to me and the people that been a part of this program have done a lot for me, and I’m incredibly thankful.”

So, Harris is back on the roster. He’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 213 pounds. He’ll once again wear the No. 34 jersey. All the same as last season — give or take a pound (really give just one).

The real difference is his class: senior.

“I want to enjoy it for another year,” Harris said, “and hopefully, the opportunity to go out for the draft will still be here next season.”