Damien Harris, the in-state running back who got away from the Cats, and Benny Snell, an out-of-state recruit who signed with Kentucky and thrived, each have a chance this season to set their respective program’s career rushing record, given the right set of circumstances.
Harris, a senior and former Madison Southern standout who has gone on to win two national championships with Alabama, has 2,194 yards from scrimmage over three seasons at Alabama, 1,397 shy of his former teammate and 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry (3,591), the Tide’s career leader.
Snell, a junior out of Westerville, Ohio, also has the potential to set his program’s career rushing mark held by Sonny Collins (3,835 yards). Snell has run for 2,424 in two seasons and is the only UK player ever to rush for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
To reach Henry, Harris would need his best season, yet. Harris had 1,037 rushing yards in 2016 and 1,000 in 2017 as part of a multiple-attack offense that split carries between other backs and quarterback Jalen Hurts. Harris was named second-team preseason All-America by The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Over his career, Harris has averaged 6.7 yards per carry. To break Henry’s mark, then, Harris would need 209 carries this season. If he breaks runs off at a 7.4 average, like he did in 2017, he will need 188 carries. Harris has not carried the ball more than 146 times in his Alabama career (2016).
In his Heisman campaign, Henry ran for 2,219 yards, so the potential for a big season by an Alabama back is there if Harris can handle the load and the Tide hand him the ball.
He’s also trying to become the first Alabama running back to rush for at least 1,000 in three consecutive seasons. And he’ll be doing so under the team’s fourth different offensive coordinator. At SEC Media Days, Harris credited the offensive line for what he’s been able to accomplish.
“Any sort of success I have, I always defer to (the line) because without them I wouldn’t have the ability to do what I do,” he said. “A lot of times people think as running backs, it’s all about what we do. You look at those guys up front, there are a lot of times — not just myself, but all of our running backs — we’re untouched for 10 or 15 yards. That’s not because we’re playing against bad defense. Our offensive line is that good.”
Based on last year’s numbers, Snell would just need 15 more carries than he had last season (262) to break Collins’ mark. Snell ran for 1,333 yards last season after a 1,091-yard freshman campaign. Snell is currently eighth on UK’s all-time rushing list.