Madison Southern running back Damien Harris ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns in his season opener Friday night. The game was called after one half due to inclement weather. Madison Southern defeated Rockcastle County 24-7.
Harris — the No. 1 running back in the country and UK’s top target in the class of 2015 — talked afterward about his recruitment, which is down to UK, Ohio State, Florida, Alabama and Texas A&M and will end with his Dec. 13 announcement.
How have you handled the pressure and the attention you’ve received?
“It’s not hard at all. I just tend to block all of that stuff out. I know I’m only still in high school. I’m only 17 years old. I still have a team here in high school before I can start worrying about recruiting, college, all of that stuff. So I just try to stay grounded, stay humble, not let this attention get to my head. Stay focused on my teammates and keep trying to motivate them each and every day. And continue to try and be the best leader that I can possibly be.”
What is it your looking for in a school?
“Just how close I get with the coaching staff, as well as the players and the commits that are coming in. All of those things together kind of give me that great family feel. Whoever does that the best, whoever I kind of mix with, jell with and feel like I’m at home with my own family — that’s the most important part. I need to feel like these coaches are going to push me, not only as a football player, but as an individual, as a student, growing up as a young man. And I need my teammates to make me feel like I’m a brother to them. I’m not just somebody coming on to a team, but I’m coming into a brotherhood.”
There was a time when Kentucky wasn’t even in the mix. Now they’re in your top five. Why are the Wildcats in there?
“I remember when Coach Stoops came in. He came to the school and he knew I wasn’t real high on Kentucky. The first thing he told me was, ‘Just give us a chance to recruit you. Let us show that we’re going to try to turn things around and build a great team.’ So I kind of listened to him. I started going to some of the practices, meeting with some of the coaches. And it worked out for the better, because I’ve become really close with the staff. I know players like Drew Barker and Matt Elam. We were all kind of close from the get-go, so whenever they committed to Kentucky we kept the connection and friendship. So they’re doing a little bit of recruiting themselves. I just get a good feel from them now.”
Have you decided on any visits going forward?
“I’m in the process of working on it, but it’ll take a little time.”
Will you be at Kentucky next weekend for the opener?
“I haven’t decided yet. I guess we’ll see.”
Talk about your relationship with Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer.
“I’ve built a great relationship with Coach Meyer. Me and him are extremely close. We talk quite often. I just love his passion, his desire as a coach. He shows that he’s extremely enthusiastic about what he does. He cares about his players. He’s not just a football coach. He’s more like a mentor and a father figure to his players. So that’s definitely something that I enjoy. Whenever I get up on campus, he makes me feel like he’s not just trying to coach me, but he’s trying to be a part of my life. I’ve definitely grown close with him.”
Texas A&M offered right before you narrowed your list. How were they able to get in like that so late?
“I was kind of intrigued by it whenever I first started talking to their coaches. They just told me that they wanted a chance to recruit me, so I thought about it a little bit. I thought it would be an interesting place to look at. I kind of decided that they could be in my top five and I would be happy looking at them, going on official visits and all that. And trying to see if that’s the place for me.”
Why did Florida make your cut?
“I visited Florida once and really liked it. I sat down with Coach Muschamp. Loved talking to him. I got really affiliated with them extremely quick. Usually, it takes time to grow close with some of the coaches and the atmosphere. But we got pretty close in a quick amount of time. I was kind of thrown off by it, but it kind of intrigued me enough to keep them in my top five.”
What about Alabama? What kept them in there?
“I mean, it’s Alabama. You can’t deny that they have great facilities, great coaches, great players. It’s a championship dynasty that they’ve built there. Of course, who wouldn’t want to be a part of it. You just have to look at it, balance it with all of the other schools I’m looking at, and take it from there.”
You mentioned your relationship with Barker and Elam. Have those guys been talking to you since they got to campus?
“They just try to tell me how it feels to be the hometown kid going to the hometown school. Just how it feels being loved … going from high school to college, you’re still experiencing the love. They’ve just kind of been talking to me about it. How things have been on campus, how things are working with the offense, how great the coaches treat them and things like that. They’re just trying to get me to buy in to what they’re putting out.”
How much does that appeal to you — being the local guy who goes to the hometown school?
“It obviously would be a great thing to stay at home, stay close to my family and friends. But I can’t just look at Kentucky more than anybody else because it’s home. I have to put them on an even playing field with everybody else. It seems cool, but at the same time it’s not everything. I don’t have a problem going out of state, going somewhere far. That doesn’t bother me. But at the same time, it would be nice to be at home. But I can’t focus on it.”