By LARRY VAUGHT
He came into his sophomore season with seven Division I scholarship offers and now Madison Southern running back Damien Harris says the number is around 15 or more.
That’s how impressive the 5-11, 205-pound Harris, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, has been. He ran for 742 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 76 carries in 2011 as a freshman and came back last season to gain 1,911 yards on 160 carries and score 37 times. He also caught five passes for 176 yards and three more scores.
He got more physical last season when he found more time to get in the weight room — he had always played three sports before — and hopes to be even more aggressive this season after learning last year that teams often celebrated just for tackling him.
“A lot of times it can be like that. It gets frustrating. Every time you get tackled, they celebrate like they won a state championship, but it only makes me better,” said Harris. “It makes me not want to get tackled that much more so I can keep them from having that pleasure of tackling me. It is what it is. I have kind of accepted it through the years, so it is not that big a deal any more.”
He proved his speed is a “big deal” at the Class AA regional track meet at Boyle County Saturday. He won the 100-meter dash in and also helped Madison Southern win the 4×100 relay even though he’s still not at full speed. “It has been kind of hard for me conditioning wise. This was my first meet in almost two months where I had surgery on my elbow. That’s why I didn’t run the 200 (meter dash). I had a slight strain in my quad, too,” he said.
He’s not sure what caused his elbow injury.
“I just got to the point that I couldn’t straight in out and was in pain. I didn’t really have a significant injury to cause that,” Harris said. “I went to the doctor and they told me that I had extra bone growing off my elbow and it was causing extra scar tissue and arthritis. Whenever they did surgery, they shaved it down so I could get full extension in it. I will be 100 percent for football now.”
Harris prides himself on being prepared. He says he enjoys watching film and understands the value of blocking assignments and schemes. He also understands he needs a plan for what he wants to do this summer.
“I am going to try to make it up to Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama and maybe even Florida for the Friday Night Lights where you get to play in the Swamp under the lights at night,” Harris said. “I will make a few of those type trips. I am also actually going with one of my linemen to support him at one of his combines up in Chicago. I will be pretty busy seeing what places are about.”
He plans to make a trip to Kentucky “every now and then” this summer. However, he says he is already “pretty close” to UK head coach Mark Stoops, offensive coordinator Neal Brown and running backs coach Chad Scott.
“They are all great guys. I will definitely stay in touch with them and make some of their practices and stuff. I was at the spring game. I will definitely stay in touch with those guys,” Harris said.
He tries not to let his abundance of scholarship offers impact his daily routine.
“I try not to think about it. I want to stay grounded, stay humble. I know that I am not there yet. There are still a lot of things I have to work on,” he said. “It is hard at times to be humble. I am not going to deny it is hard. But I was raised by a good mother and she definitely keeps me grounded.
“My coaches tell me to just try to be thankful for everything I have because it is a blessing to do everything I do. I try to stay humble and thank God for all he’s blessed me with. Focus more on my grades and then what I need to do on the field versus how many offers I have.”
He won’t set individual goals for this season.
“Every year my No. 1 goal is get better and win a state championship. I don’t want to get individual accolades because there are 11 men on the field, not just one,” Harris said. “I definitely try to make team goals instead of me goals. In the end, a state championship with my team is much better than state player of the year. I don’t really have that many goals for myself other than definitely win a state championship. That’s the one goal I want.”
That’s part of why he runs track. He likes to stay in shape, but says he also “loves winning” and pushing himself to win.
“If there is something to do because I think I can win, I do it because I love to be a winner,” he said.
He’s not sure if he can win the 100-meter dash at the Class AA state meet in Louisville Friday.
“It is a tough question. I have been off for a while. but I don’t ever consider myself an underdog. I always consider myself to be not the best but to have the best chance,” Harris said. “You have to go in with that mindset that you are going to win under any circumstance. Not in an arrogant or cocky way. I feel like I still have a good chance to come in first. If I do, it will be great. If I don’t, it will just give motivation to work even harder for next year.”
He has paid attention to how hard the Kentucky coach staff has been working in recruiting and noted how Conner quarterback Drew Barker, a four-star recruit, picked UK over South Carolina last week.
“I am not going to want to go somewhere where I am the only recruit … where other people commit takes into play where I want to go,” Harris said. “If a good quarterback commits to a school, I will look into that. A good quarterback and a good running back duo, that’s always a plus.
“As far as other players at my position, I don’t like to go somewhere another top running back will go. I don’t want to really share with somebody else. I would like to be that guy that gets the carries, that gets the tough yards and stuff like that. I take it into consideration”
He knows Brown’s high tempo offense at Kentucky could create a lot of opportunities for playmakers to touch the ball, something he says appeals to him..
“More carries gives me a better opportunity to show people what I can do. But 30 or 40 carries a game is hard work. Not saying I wouldn’t be up to the work, but it makes things harder versus 15 to 20 carries like coach Brown seems to like for a back,” Harris said. “But that is kind of how our offense is. We like to run 80 or 90 plays a game and if I were to go there, it would be an easy fit for me because I would be used to running so many plays already and I like that offense.”