UK Football

Damien Harris addresses it all: Benny Snell, Jay Bilas and why he’s a Duke basketball fan

Damien Harris, who was a high school standout at Madison Southern in Kentucky before starring at Alabama, spoke during Southeastern Conference Media Days in Atlanta on Wednesday.
Damien Harris, who was a high school standout at Madison Southern in Kentucky before starring at Alabama, spoke during Southeastern Conference Media Days in Atlanta on Wednesday. AP

Wednesday afternoon was a typical Alabama football experience at Southeastern Conference Media Days.

Coach Nick Saban thanked the media for their coverage and commended his players that joined him for the event.

He celebrated the return of star senior running back Damien Harris — a former standout at Madison Southern — for a final season with the Crimson Tide.

Of Harris, Saban said: “Probably could’ve gone out for the draft, but I think he sent a message that I’m a guy who wants to graduate. I like college. The NFL’s not going to go any place. I’m going to try and have a great year and see what happens.”

When it was his turn with the media, the senior with 2,194 yards rushing and 14 career touchdowns at Alabama made the most of his trip to the event.

With a smile and what can only be described as intense ease, Harris held court with a table surrounded by cameras, reporters, recorders and bright lights. He had insights, opinions and feelings on a wide range of topics.

Among those, Benny Snell’s assertion that he is the top running back in the league.

The Kentucky junior, who is the leading returning rusher in the SEC this season after his 1,333 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, was asked several times Monday about feeling overlooked.

Did Snell feel like this was his time to be recognized as an elite running back in a talented conference?

“From my freshman year to now, I feel like I’m the best I’ve ever been,” Snell said. “My time is now.”

When asked a few seconds later if he’s the best running back in the SEC, he said: “I am the best running back in the SEC.”

Harris confirmed that he knew Snell and that he had heard Snell’s declaration.

Did Harris have any opinion on that? “No,” he said simply, looking around the table for the next question.

During SEC Media Day on Wednesday, Alabama running back Damien Harris explains his decision to return to Alabama for another year.

In a different room earlier in the day, Harris was similarly diplomatic, but a little more wordy: “Who doesn’t think they’re the best? Don’t we all think we’re the best at our position?”

The Alabama star had plenty of longer sentences and stronger opinions during his 20-minute sit down in the main media room.

Here’s a collection of those:

This summer, Harris has been regularly retweeting Jay Bilas motivational tweets — courtesy of Young Jeezy — with the word “MOOD” attached.

Some of the greatest hits have included: “I’m only human, just a man. God gave me a gift to do the best that I can. I gotta go to work.”

Or: “Lunar eclipse, they tryin’ to block my shine. Say what you want, you can’t stop my grind. I gotta go to work.”

Those became part of Harris’ morning ritual before 6 a.m. runs with teammates.

“I get on Twitter and see some motivational tweet from Jay Bilas and it gets me ready to go,” he said.

Has he ever met Bilas?

“I haven’t but I would love to meet Jay Bilas. I’m a Duke basketball fan. I’m not sure how or why. It just happened.”

Jay Bilas ice cream
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas is a favorite of Alabama running back Damien Harris. Michael Reaves

Does being a Kentucky kid facing Louisville in the season opener have any special meaning? “Not really.”

On former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones now being an analyst on the Alabama staff, Harris had this to say: “He’s a great addition to our staff. I think he’s going to do a great job as an analyst, get with the coaches however he can. I don’t really know what an analyst is supposed to do, but whatever he’s supposed to do, I’m sure he’ll do it at a very high level.”

Butch Jones - Wade Payne.jpg
Former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones is now an analyst for the Alabama coaching staff. Wade Payne AP

Does Harris have a go-to dance move or song to get ready for a game? “I don’t really dance. I don’t know why. I don’t like to dance. But pump-up song? It’d probably be ‘March Madness’ by Future.”

On undefeated Central Florida declaring itself a co-national champion even though the Knights weren’t invited to the College Football Playoff:

“I thought it was disrespectful,” Harris said. “It takes away from what we did and what we accomplished, but I got over that real quick. It was a knee-jerk reaction and I felt pretty disrespected, but at the end of the day, they had a great season and they set out to do what they wanted to do. We had a great season and did what we wanted to do. Who cares at this point?”

What does Harris want to work on most in this his senior season at Alabama? Leadership.

“I’m kind of going from a guy who likes to just do my own work and stay off to myself and do what I do and go home. Now I realize being a veteran on this team and somebody people look at, I’m focused on how I can positively affect my teammates, how I can set that example, set that standard. … It’s about more than me, it’s about how I can influence the other 105 players on the team.”

The former Madison Southern standout, who had 6,748 yards and 122 touchdowns in his high school career, was asked about coming out of a state without much football tradition and now starring for Alabama.

“It was an honor getting to say I made it out and kind of putting the state on the map,” Harris said. “They’ve had other guys recruited since then. They’ve got a lot of talent coming out of (Kentucky). It was a great feeling, especially when Kentucky is looked at as a basketball state.

“That’s just kind of the mindset that it’s not really a football state, but it was a great feeling. I’m glad to be where I am, but I’m also glad to be where I’m from.”

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops believes star running back Benny Snell plays the game the right way. Snell is the first UK running back to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. He will be a junior in 2018.