ATLANTA (KT) — Damien Harris doesn’t regret returning to Alabama. Although Harris could have easily declared for the NFL Draft following his junior campaign, he wants to experience the college scene one more time.
“I decided to come back because, for three years, I was very fortunate and blessed to be part of this program,” Harris said. “Everything we went through, winning the national championship, it kind of put things in perspective for me.”
Before making a final determination on his future, Harris, who chose the Crimson Tide over Kentucky and Ohio State following a stellar career at Madison Southern High School in Berea, said the decision was easy one he asked himself ‘am I ready to leave this place yet?’”
“I’ve had my great accomplishments here as an individual (and) as a team, but I just wasn’t ready to give it up yet. I wanted to come back for another year, enjoy my senior year and be a winner for this program.”
Alabama missed out on winning the Southeastern Conference championship last year but defeated Georgia in the national championship game to claim the ultimate prize in collegiate football. Harris said the team’s main goal is to “win every game that we play, beat every team that we face.”
“If that comes with winning the SEC championship, then yes, I look forward to (winning an SEC title),” he said.
Harris has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons. He rushed for 1,000 yards on 135 carries and scored 11 touchdowns last season. He credits his success to the Alabama offensive line.
“Any sort of success I have, I always defer to them, because without them, I would 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 is a lot of time, not just myself, but all of our running backs, we’re untouched for 10 or 15 yards. That’s not because we are playing against bad defenses. Our offensive line is that good and they go out of their way to protect us play after play (and) protect the quarterback.”
Prior to his collegiate career, Harris made a name for himself at Madison Southern and rewrote most of the school’s record books in nearly every rushing category.
“It was an honor getting to say I made it out and kind of putting the state on the map,” he said. “We’ve had other guys recruited since then (in Kentucky) and there’s a lot of talent coming out of there, It’s a great feeling, especially when Kentucky is looked at as a basketball state.”
Going into his last hurrah at Alabama, Harris will be playing for his fourth offensive coordinator. Michael Locksley and Josh Gattis will share the role of calling shots for the Crimson Tide offense this season and Harris said the offense will adjust as they have in the past three years.
“Every coach has their own style,” he said. “Everybody is different. (Locksley) definitely brings things to the table that other coordinators in the past haven’t. But as far as how he’s going to call plays, how he’s going to open up the playbook and how he thinks the offense should be run, we’re still trying to figure him out and he’s still trying to figure us out. We still have a lot of work to do as an offensive unit and we’ve made a lot of strides in the right direction.”
In addition to getting better as a player and getting used to a new offensive coordinator, Harris plans to build on his first three seasons and increase his role as a team leader off the field.
“That’s definitely something that I’ve emphasized I need to improve on the most,” he said. “Obviously there are things on the field I can get better at. There will always be something that you can change butting a leader on the field, being a veteran, a guy that people look up to, that kind of sets the example and shows you the standard of what coach (Nick) Saban expects us to be as players, as well last student-athletes. That’s something I really want to focus on improving and something I want people to look up to me for.”
This week most teams in the SEC will open fall camp and Harris is looking forward to playing seven more games at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, including a season-ending finale against rival Auburn.
“It’s like nowhere else I’ve ever been,” he said. “It’s truly an electric environment. We’ve got the best fans in the world.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.