Madison Southern’s Damien Harris will go into the summer ranked as the top running back in high school football.
Rivals.com analyst Josh Helmholdt says the University of Kentucky recruit has the talent to play college football right now.
“He is college ready, no matter where he goes,” Helmholdt told the Herald-Leader. “He could help an offense this fall, let alone two falls from now. Physically, he is there. He’s a guy who can impact today, if he was called upon.”
Instead, football fans in Central Kentucky will get to see him play one more season at Madison Southern. UK fans hope he sticks around a little longer.
Harris — a 5-foot-11, 205-pound prospect — is one of the most sought-after recruits in the class of 2015. Rivals.com ranks him as the No. 4 overall prospect in the class. His list of scholarship offers includes just about every major school in the country.
Helmholdt first saw him play as a sophomore. He called Harris “the most special” of any of the running backs in this class.
“He just has a different level of explosiveness, even in a camp setting where it’s all elite guys,” he said. “And he’s built like a brick house. You can tell that linebackers, over the course of a game, get worn down from having to tackle this guy. Not only can he hit the edge and hit the home run, but he also can pound it between the tackles and wear down the defense.
“His speed is among the best in the country at his position. His agility, his elusiveness, and then his ability to run over people. You put that package together and you’re talking about a really special running back.”
Helmholdt said there’s nothing particularly unique about Harris’ game or his running style. He simply does everything very well. “There’s not a weakness there, there really isn’t.”
Coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown will have their work cut out for them in this recruitment.
Harris recently announced his top 10 schools, and Kentucky made that cut. The rest of that list reads like a who’s who of college football: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Southern Cal and Tennessee.
Helmholdt said he considers Ohio State, Alabama and Florida State the “key players” right now in Harris’ recruitment. The analyst said “you can probably throw Michigan” in that group too. Harris committed to the Wolverines last year and then backed out of that pledge shortly after the program fired its offensive coordinator.
Most analysts don’t consider Kentucky to be in Harris’ “top tier” of schools at the moment. But the general consensus is that the Wildcats have a legitimate shot at the highest-rated in-state player of the Rivals.com era.
Harris has already made several recruiting visits to Lexington, including one trip for a UK practice earlier this month. He’s expected to be back in town for Saturday’s Blue-White Game.
The interest is real. In the end, it’s all going to come down to winning.
Harris has already made it clear that he wants to see better on-the-field results from the Wildcats this season. He hasn’t mentioned a “magic number” of victories that would elevate UK’s status in his eyes, but it’s clear that the Cats must be more competitive to have a shot at his commitment.
If UK can do that, Helmholdt says they’ll have a serious chance at landing the nation’s No. 1 running back.
“How big of a factor Kentucky is in his recruitment is going to depend on how they do in the fall,” he said. “They start winning games and show that they’re a team that can contend for SEC titles in the future, they will be able to continue that recruiting momentum. They’ve built a foundation. Building on that — with guys like Damien Harris — is going to depend on how well they do on the field.
“Kentucky is in that top 10 for him. If they start winning, that’s going to put them in the ballgame.”
Note: This is the first installment of a new feature that will look at one UK football recruit every week. Check the Next Cats blog next Monday for a story on another one of the Cats’ top targets for the class of 2015.