BEREA — The football recruiting world almost spun off its axis the last few weeks as speculation swirled around Madison Southern five-star running back Damien Harris.
Harris ended all of the hubbub and handwringing by committing to Alabama in front of family, friends, teammates, schoolmates and media in Madison Southern's gym Friday afternoon.
Harris chose the Crimson Tide over Kentucky and Ohio State. "All three schools are great," he said. "But at the end of the day I felt Alabama was the best fit for me."
The assembled students applauded and cheered loudly. There were no boos or negative reaction at all from the UK fans in attendance.
Harris kept his decision a secret, even from his mom, even though he made up his mind a couple of weeks ago.
"I kind of had a feeling, but he told me he wasn't going to tell me because I've been an emotional basket case," Lynn Harris said.
She was sitting beside her son when he pulled on an Alabama cap Friday afternoon. She broke into tears, put her arm around him and told him, "I'm so proud of you."
Harris didn't give Alabama Coach Nick Saban a heads-up before the news conference, either. "I wanted all (the coaches) to find out at the same time," he said. "I let it fall. Just like you guys, they're just now finding out."
Harris did call Saban minutes after the news conference. "He said, 'Roll Tide,' and that he can't wait for me to get down there," Harris said.
A 5-foot-11, 205-pound combination of speed, power, vision and uncanny cut-back ability, Harris is rated the No. 1 running back in the nation.
A knee injury limited him to seven games this season, but he still rushed for 1,474 yards and 23 touchdowns.
He finished his career with the second-most TDs (122) and rushing TDs (113) in state history. His 6,748 rushing yards rank 11th all-time.
"He's the complete package," said Madison Southern running backs coach Byron Smoot. "He can catch the ball, he can run the ball and he can block. I think he'll fit Alabama's system very well, and I think he'll be in the rotation early."
Madison Southern Coach Jon Clark said he thinks Harris is a "perfect fit" for the Crimson Tide's "downhill, run-game system."
Alabama's reputation for developing running backs for the NFL was a factor, too.
"They just feed backs into the league, and that's the ultimate goal after college," Harris said. "It's hard to pass up a great opportunity like that."
Football alone didn't sell Harris and his mom on the Crimson Tide.
Harris said when Saban recruited him, he expected to hear "about how they'd put me in the (NFL) draft, or develop me as a player.
"But he really stressed about how they'd push me academically and better me as a person. It wasn't just the football aspect. It was about life and academics."
That's just what Lynn Harris wanted to hear.
"Football is a bonus for me," she said. "The way I look at it, No. 1 has always been education, and No. 2 has been character — who (Damien) is as a person and how he treats people.
"At Alabama, he'll get a great education, and they're going to continue to develop him into a man."
Even though he's committed to Alabama, Harris expects some schools to try to get him to flip. "But I've made my decision and I'm solid with it," he said.
Harris understood that UK coaches and fans would be disappointed with his decision. He said he considered the benefits of staying close to home and playing in front of family and friends, but that wasn't enough to outweigh the benefits of going to Alabama.
"I'm ready to start the next chapter of my life," he said.
If that chapter is anything like that written by Shaun Alexander, it will be entertaining reading.
It was 20 years ago this month that Alexander, a running back at Boone County, committed to Alabama. He set a career rushing record for the Crimson Tide, and went on to earn NFL MVP honors with the Seattle Seahawks.