TUSCALOOSA – Damien Harris worked hard during the off-season to lose weight.
The achievement, however, didn’t come without sacrifice for the junior running back. Harris said the most difficult part of his diet plan was giving up one of his favorite foods.
“I haven’t had one in months,” Harris told reporters on Monday. “It’s probably been since June or July. It hurts to talk about it.”
— Mac Jones (@MacJones_10) October 10, 2017
Why would you do this to me… https://t.co/yrdBnlHvhq
— Damien Harris (@DHx34) October 10, 2017
That pain has been rewarding for the 5-foot-11-, 220-pounder this season. In six games, Harris has 59 carries for 500 yards with a team-high seven touchdowns. His 500 yards ranks fifth in the SEC and second-most on the team, just 17 yards less of quarterback Jalen Hurts with 10 fewer carries.
In Alabama’s 27-19 win at Texas A&M last Saturday, Harris led the Crimson Tide’s rushing attack with 124 yards, marking his second 100-yard rushing game this season and fifth of his career. His other 100-yard mark this season was a career-best 153 rushing yards against Vandy. Harris’ performance last Saturday included a career-long 75-yard touchdown run, breaking his previous long of 73 yards against USC last year.
During his press conference on Monday, head coach Nick Saban described Harris as the team’s most explosive runner.
“Damien has played really well for us this year. I think he’s played really well for us in the past when he’s been healthy,” Saban said. “He’s been able to stay healthy so far this year. (He) makes good cuts, good decisions, runs the plays the way they’re designed to be run. He has good burst and acceleration when there is an opening.”
Harris is currently averaging 8.5 yards per carry, which leads the SEC and ranks ninth nationally among rushers having played in 75 percent of their team’s games and a minimum of four attempts per game played.
The Richmond, Ky., native attributes his success to the performances of the offensive line. Harris expresses his gratitude by taking his guardians out to dinner on his expense.
“They make our offense work. It starts up front with them,” Harris said of the offensive line. “Whether it’s in the pass game, blocking inside and out, protecting Jalen in the pocket or in the run game – opening up holes in the line of scrimmage. They do a great job.
“It’s kind of getting expensive, though,” he smiled.
As the Tide’s leading rusher a year ago, Harris finished last season with 146 carries for 1,037 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while also adding 14 catches for 99 yards with two scores. Statistically, Harris’ production could have been more. However, five plays into the Kent State game, Harris exited the contest with an ankle injury, which limited him to just two carries the next week against Kentucky.
But now Alabama has more depth at running back, a highly-talented group that also includes Bo Scarbrough, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs. True freshman Brian Robinson and redshirt junior Ronnie Clark are also options, both having played in two games apiece.
Saban believes depth at running back has contributed to Harris staying health this season.
“Maybe one of the reasons he is healthy and he’s staying healthy and able to do what he’s doing is that we’re playing more guys at the position and he doesn’t have to play as many plays,” Saban said. “I’d rather see him do that over the long haul of the season rather than start running him 30 times in a game and all of a sudden, he’s not able to run at all.
“I do, in all honesty, when we’re standing on the sidelines, and we have somebody that’s hot that’s running well and making yards, we’ll play that guy a little more. But still, we’re not going to try and kill the guy or wear him out.”