Sep 022014
 
Madison Southern running back Damien Harris is considered the No. 1 running back in the country. Photo: Matt Goins/For the Herald-Leader

Madison Southern running back Damien Harris is considered the No. 1 running back in the country.
Photo: Matt Goins/For the Herald-Leader

Madison Southern star Damien Harris is the highest-rated Kentucky high school player in the era of recruiting rankings and UK’s top target in the class of 2015.

He also happens to play a position that is among the Cats’ deepest moving forward.

UK is expected to return five experienced running backs in 2015, when Harris will be a college freshman. If he picks Kentucky, he’ll have to work to earn a prominent role early in his career. But that will be the case at any of his five finalists.

Not counting players who are currently seniors, the five schools remaining on Harris’ list boast a total of 13 running backs who were ranked in the Rivals 100 coming out of high school, and 20 who were ranked in the Rivals 250.

Alabama and Ohio State each have six Rivals 250 running backs who would be eligible to return to college in 2015. UK and Florida have three apiece, while Texas A&M has two such players.

Here’s a closer look at each program’s projected running back situation for next season, with each player’s current year in college and rankings from Rivals.com:

Alabama
Player Ht Wt Current year Rivals 250 rank RB rank Class
T.J. Yeldon 6-2 221 Junior 12 2 2012
Kenyan Drake 6-1 202 Junior 185 13 2012
Derrick Henry 6-3 241 Sophomore 36 5 2013
Altee Tenpenny 6-0 218 Sophomore 53 8 2013
Tyren Jones 5-9 212 Freshman 79 11 2013
Desherrius Flowers 6-0 212 HS Senior 97 9 2015

 
Notes: T.J. Yeldon ran for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns last season and is projected as a possible first-round pick next year. Even if Yeldon leaves early, the Tide should have the most returning talent at running back of any of the five schools on Harris’ list. Drake ran for 694 yards and eight TDs in 2013, and Henry added 382 yards and three touchdowns on just 35 carries. Tenpenny also played last year as a true freshman, and Alabama has Jones and Flowers lined up behind that group.
Season opener: Yeldon (23 rushes, 126 yards, 2 TDs), Henry (17 rushes, 113 yards, 1 TD), Drake (3 rushes, 7 yards). | Alabama 33, West Virginia 23

Florida
Player Ht Wt Current year Rivals 250 rank RB rank Class
Matt Jones 6-2 235 Junior 190 15 2012
Kelvin Taylor 5-10 210 Sophomore 38 6 2013
Adam Lane 5-7 222 Freshman 29 2013
Brandon Powell 5-9 177 Freshman 200 8* 2014

*-All-purpose back
 
Notes: The Gators are likely to return three Rivals 250 recruits and plenty of experience in 2015. Taylor ran for 508 yards and four touchdowns as a true freshman last season. Jones went for 339 yards and two scores in 2013. Powell is not listed on Florida’s depth chart but had a great fall camp and is expected to make an immediate impact as a true freshman this season. Lane redshirted last year.
Season opener: Florida’s game against Idaho on Saturday was postponed due to weather. Jones, Taylor and senior Mack Brown were all listed equally on the pre-game depth chart.

Kentucky
Player Ht Wt Current year Rivals 250 rank RB rank Class
Braylon Heard 5-11 189 Junior 57 5 2010
Josh Clemons 5-10 223 Junior 54 2011
Jojo Kemp 5-10 192 Sophomore 10* 2013
Boom Williams 5-9 200 Freshman 118 4* 2014
Mikel Horton 6-1 230 Freshman 150 12 2014

*-All-purpose back
 
Notes: The Cats’ probable group of returning running backs for 2015 is similar to Florida’s in talent and experience. Heard sat out last season after playing two years at Nebraska, where he ran for 462 yards and four touchdowns. Kemp led UK in rushing as a true freshman last season (100 attempts for 482 yards and 3 scores). Horton and Williams got multiple carries in their first game as true freshmen Saturday, and Clemons will also see time after missing the past two-and-a-half seasons with injuries. All five are expected back next season.
Season opener: Heard (2 rushes, 116 yards, 2 TDs), Horton (7 rushes, 45 yards, 2 TDs), Kemp (8 rushes, 31 yards, 1 TD), Williams (4 rushes, 10 yards), Clemons (2 rushes, 5 yards). | Kentucky 59, UT-Martin 14

Ohio State
Player Ht Wt Current year Rivals 250 rank RB rank Class
Ezekiel Elliott 6-0 225 Sophomore 84 12 2013
Dontre Wilson 5-10 188 Sophomore 100 5* 2013
Bri’onte Dunn 6-0 216 Sophomore 138 11 2012
Warren Ball 6-1 224 Sophomore 193 16 2012
Jalin Marshall 5-11 205 Freshman 35 1** 2013
Curtis Samuel 5-11 196 Freshman 49 8^ 2014

*-All-purpose back | ^-Wide receiver | **-Athlete
 
Notes: Ohio State is the only program on this list that comes close to matching the running back talent that Alabama will likely return next season. Elliott (262 yards and 2 touchdowns), Wilson (250 yards and 1 TD) and Ball (76 yards and no scores) all played as freshmen in 2013. Dunn ran for 133 yards and two TDs as a true freshman in 2012 before redshirting last season. Marshall redshirted last season and has been the subject of much praise from Buckeyes Coach Urban Meyer. Samuel — listed as a wide receiver in high school — has also drawn a lot of attention in his short time in Columbus. It’s worth noting that all six of these players are either sophomores or freshmen. (Also: Wilson and Marshall are listed as H-backs on OSU’s depth chart).
Season opener: Samuel (7 rushes, 45 yards), Elliott (12 rushes, 44 yards, 1 TD), Wilson (6 rushes, 43 yards), Marshall (3 rushes, 7 yards). | Ohio State 34, Navy 17

Texas A&M
Player Ht Wt Current year Rivals 250 rank RB rank Class
Trey Williams 5-8 195 Junior 15 3 2012
Brandon Williams 6-0 200 Junior 14 3 2011
Tra Carson 6-0 235 Junior 55 2011
James White 6-0 218 Freshman 28 2013
Jay Bradford 5-11 190 HS Senior 26 2015

 
Notes: The Aggies have three talented running backs returning this season, but they will all be seniors in 2015 and A&M doesn’t have much lined up after that. Trey Williams (407 yards and six touchdowns), Brandon Williams (269 yards and 1 TD) and Carson (329 yards and 7 TDs) split carries in 2013, and that carried over to last week’s season opener. After that, it’s White, who redshirted last year and did not play last week, and Bradford, a low-four-star recruit in the class of 2015.
Season opener: T. Williams (13 rushes, 78 yards, 1 TD), B. Williams (11 rushes, 57 yards), Carson (7 rushes, 30 yards, 3 TDs). | Texas A&M 52, South Carolina 28

Fun fact: Harris’ No. 34 jersey is not taken by a scholarship player at any of the five schools on his list. It’s completely free at Alabama, Florida and Ohio State. Walk-on tight end Thaddeus Kazunas wears No. 34 at UK, and walk-on running back Blaine Townsend has the number at Texas A&M.

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