With each passing week, more and more signs point to five-star running back Damien Harris ultimately ending up at the University of Kentucky.
He has made the short drive to Commonwealth Stadium for four of five home games this season. That includes each of the last three Saturdays, two of those spent hobbling around on crutches because of a knee injury. (He’s expected to be back to watch the Oct. 25 matchup with No. 1 Mississippi State, by the way).
Harris has often praised Mark Stoops and his coaching staff for the Cats’ recent success on the field (and the recruiting trail). He has talked repeatedly about his bond with those coaches and some of the younger players on the team, and he seems intrigued by the opportunity to help turn around his home-state program.
It has gotten to the point that Kentucky might be considered the favorite in his recruitment, over fellow finalists and traditional powerhouses Ohio State, Alabama, Texas A&M and Florida.
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Count Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell among those who think Stoops is in the driver’s seat for the biggest in-state recruit in years.
“I think they’re going to get him,” Farrell told the Herald-Leader. “I feel confident with the ties he has to the program. Last year, I hunched that Matt Elam wouldn’t leave (Kentucky). It was just a feeling that there’s really no way he’s going to spurn his home-state program after all the efforts they’d put into him. And I think it’s the same thing for Damien.
“If Damien was a guy who had said, ‘I want to get out of state,’ or if he was sort of a stargazer that had to go to a major program, then I would think differently. But I don’t think he’s that type of kid. I think he’s really interested in staying home and playing for Kentucky and trying to take that to a different level.”
Farrell referred to Harris as a “must-get guy” for Stoops, who has emphasized the importance of keeping Kentucky’s best talent at home ever since he took over the program. The UK coach has done that so far with Elam, Drew Barker, Ryan Timmons, Jason Hatcher and Eli Brown.
Barker — and to a lesser extent, Elam — brought UK some national attention when they committed to the Wildcats for the class of 2014.
Farrell said that Barker jumping on board was “huge” in part because of the role he played in helping UK recruit that class and then keeping it almost entirely intact through national signing day.
The Rivals.com analyst said he doesn’t see Harris rallying others to Lexington in the same vocal manner as Barker, but his commitment could have a ripple effect that extends to future recruiting classes.
“It will bring other kids,” Farrell said. “Damien is a big name nationally. It would be a big deal. Other kids would look at Kentucky and say, ‘What am I missing?’ And I just think — in state, it would certainly help — but out of state, you’d start seeing some offensive linemen say, ‘Hey, I want to block for that guy.’
“It would really help recruiting just to say they’ve got this marquee guy, top-10 player in the country and decided to stay home. Because kids are very impressionable. Everybody forgets that these are 16- and 17-year-old kids. They see somebody like that and it’s going to impact them, whether they admit it or not. They’re going to say, ‘What did he see that I’m not seeing? Maybe I’ll take a look again. Or maybe I’ll take a visit out there and get more exposed to that.’ It’s just a big message.”