As a five-star running back, Damien Harris could have played college football anywhere, but he chose Alabama over Ohio State and other powerhouses.
Nick Saban was a big reason why.
“All coaches have their own personality, especially when it comes to recruiting,” Harris said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “Everybody’s different. Everybody brings something different to the table. But there’s just something about Coach Saban. Whenever I met with him, he was just talking business with me. He let me know that this is a 40-year decision, not a four-year decision. He just told me that this really contributed to my future – not just where I’d be playing college football, but basically with the next 40 years of my life. That was something that he really encouraged me to really think about, so that was really big in my decision-making.”
Harris said Saban was “very business-like” and “very business-minded” during the recruiting process.
“It’s a very serious conversation because he’s trying to get us to invest in his product, everything that he’s developed here at this program,” Harris said. “So in a situation like that, it’s very business-like, a very serious conversation. But now looking at it, I’ve been here three years now and having conversations with him, I think he has a lot more personality than a lot of people think. People see him in the media and people see how kind of strict he is with the media, but for the most part when players sit in with him, he likes to joke around and have fun. People just don’t realize that as much as we do.”
Still, Nick Saban isn’t Dabo Swinney. He’s not going to dance in the locker room with his players.
“Maybe after the game if he’s satisfied with the way we played,” Harris said, laughing. “But before the game, it’s a whole lot of business only. But in the locker room after the game, as long as he thinks we played well, we like to have a good time.”
Harris, a Kentucky native, played behind Derrick Henry as a freshman before rushing for more than 1,000 yards as a sophomore. He ceded carries to Bo Scarbrough toward the end of last season, but he didn’t exactly hold a grudge – and hey, Scarbrough rushed for 454 yards and six touchdowns against Auburn, Florida, Washington, and Clemson.
“It was motivating because I saw him having success and I wanted to have that same success,” Harris said. “It wasn’t motivating in the fact of, ‘Okay, well, I’m not the man anymore.’ I never felt that way. We’re a close group of guys in the running-back room. We got a lot of guys that can go in and contribute at any level. Even though we have a lot of guys that can go anywhere else in the country and maybe be the only guy, there’s four or five of us that all split time and share the responsibility of playing that role here.
“So it was just motivating for me because I wanted to have that same level of success,” Harris continued. “I wanted all of us to have success. We don’t care who makes the play. We don’t care who gets the yards. We don’t care who scores the touchdown – as long as somebody does. And then when one person does, another person feeds off it and we just kind of complement each other. This year, I just wanted us to all come out and play really well, complement each other, and kind of feed off that energy and that momentum that we kind of picked up from the end of the season.”
So far, so good. Alabama (7-0) is ranked No. 1 in the country. The Tide opened SEC play by beating Vanderbilt and Ole Miss by a combined 125-3 but were challenged at Texas A&M before ultimately winning, 27-19.
“I think that that’s probably the most important game that we played up to this point,” Harris said of the Oct. 7 showdown in College Station. “That was a tough environment to play in. Not only were we playing a great team, but we were playing in an atmosphere on the road in the SEC-West against the 12th Man, (as) they call themselves, and it was just a crazy atmosphere. I think that our team needed that, showing us how to play through adversity. Coach Saban always talks about things don’t always go your way. In the past couple games, things were really going our way. We were rolling on offense, defense, special teams – things were really clicking.
“But I think it was really good to have a game like that where the ball bounced the other ways sometimes and we didn’t really have the success that we wanted,” Harris continued. “It showed that it’s just not going to come as easy as it may seem sometimes and there’s going to be games where we just have to make plays just in a dog-fight situation. I think having that game really helped our team, and I think it really helped us refocus. Hopefully we’ll keep up that mentality, just being focused and clicking on all cylinders.”
Alabama, which beat Arkansas 41-9 this past weekend, hosts Tennessee (3-3) this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Vols have scored just four touchdowns in their last four games – and none in the last two.