TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The sparkling gold and purple boots were hard not to notice. In fact, they were one of the first things Alabama running back Damien Harris was asked about last week when talking to the media for the first time this spring.
Harris explained that he had just joined a new fraternity and that the new footwear was “a little symbol of all the hard work and just being a new person.” It was a flashier reward than anything he received for his hard work on the field.
Harris returns the season after rushing for a team-high 1,037 yards last season. His 7.10 yards per carry ranked No. 12 in the nation among rushers with 100 carries or more. However, entering his junior season with the Crimson Tide, he’s hardly the running back anyone is talking about.
That’s what happens when you share a backfield with a stable of four- and five-star backs.
“We'll be at practice and I kind of look back and it's like, 'We've got this many guys,’” Harris said. "There's a lot of talented guys, a lot of guys that are ready to work hard. The new guys have come in and really adapted well to the mindset and just kind of how we do things around here.”
Although none of that means much to the Kentucky native — he came to Alabama to chase greatness, not headlines.
“When you develop such a close relationship with the guys in the room, none of that matters who gets the ball more, who has the better stats," Harris explained. "The closer we get, the tighter of a group we are, the more that none of that matters, and that's what we're trying to do.”
What Harris lacks in flash he makes up in consistency and versatility. Last season he was second among Alabama in receiving with 99 yards and two touchdowns on 14 receptions. More importantly, he only put the ball on the ground twice with Alabama recovering both fumbles.
This season Harris knows he will be relied upon to bring that steady veteran presence both on and off the field.
“Now we got so many young guys, guys like me and Bo (Scarbrough), even Josh (Jacobs) who is just going to be a sophomore, we need to be leaders because we got so many younger guys,” Harris said. “So, everybody has something they want to work on. People make goals and out them on their mirrors and look at them every day when they wake up. There's never something that you can't improve on, and we just try to work on thing every day.”
During his news conference last week, Alabama head coach Nick Saban praised the running backs unit for its performance so far this spring, stating, “I think they’ve all done really, really well.”
Harris says that especially rings true for the Tide’s two early enrollees, five-star Najee Harris and four-star Brian Robinson.
"They've all come in and done a really good job of working hard, developing the mindset they need to have to be successful here. Just doing all the little things, whether it's coming to meetings at the right time — sometimes we'll have early meetings just to get the younger guys caught up quicker. Guys are doing the right things. So, I think they're putting themselves in a position to be successful here."
That emphasis on doing things the “right way” is evident in Damien Harris’ attitude this spring. After coming one second away from his second straight national title earlier this year, the junior said the team is doing everything it can “to make sure we won’t be put in that situation ever again.”
For Harris, that means continuing to put in the hard work one rep at a time while making sure his teammates do the same. He’s hoping if he does that, his shoes won’t be the only golden item he earns this year.