Nation's No. 1 prospect sticking with Alabama

No. 1 prep prospect for 2017 sticking with Alabama

Following a week of confirmed and many unconfirmed reports, the saga surrounding America's premiere college football prospect has come to an end.

Brandon Huffman has confirmed with Najee Harris that the running back will be sticking with his longtime Alabama Crimson Tide commitment and will enroll in the coming week, saying "I'm here at Alabama and going to 'Bama."

The five-star Antioch (Calif.) running back entered the week expecting to head to his school of choice, between Alabama, Michigan and Cal, without advance public notice. He reversed course on Saturday following his final high school performance, the 2017 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Harris originally committed to Alabama in April 2015 before taking official visits to UCLA, Cal and Michigan in addition to a trip to Tuscaloosa in November. Should he follow through with his enrollment plans, he would mark the first No. 1 overall prospect secured by Nick Saban during his tenure with the Crimson Tide.

Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

Top recruit Najee Harris chooses Alabama

Antioch High running back Najee Harris, the nation’s No. 1 recruit and the leading rusher in Northern California prep history, will play football at the University of Alabama.

The news, confirmed to The Chronicle by a source close to Harris, came as little surprise, given his verbal commitment to Alabama nearly two years ago. Even so, Harris kept his recruitment open and strongly considered Michigan, mostly because of the rapport he developed with head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Harris sidestepped several chances to tip his hand during practices last week for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, a national high school all-star game played Saturday in San Antonio. He even suggested to reporters that he might bypass the traditional “announcement” of his decision in favor of simply arriving on the college campus of his choice.

That’s essentially what happened — Harris traveled straight from San Antonio to Alabama on Sunday. Spring-semester classes begin Wednesday.

Harris made his nonbinding verbal commitment to Alabama in April 2015, near the end of his sophomore year, during an unofficial campus visit to Tuscaloosa, Ala. He took official visits this past fall to UCLA, Alabama, Cal and Michigan.

All along, Harris hoped to graduate early from Antioch so he could enroll in college for the spring semester. He secured the grades and SAT score he needed and officially became a high school graduate Dec. 22, after completing his final exams.

Early enrollment has become an increasingly popular move among top college football recruits, allowing them to participate in spring practice with their new team.

Throughout his recruitment, Harris provided few clues into his thinking beyond the Alabama verbal commitment. But he pointed to the SEC, widely regarded as the toughest conference in the nation, in explaining the Crimson Tide’s appeal.
“I really love competition, and there’s nothing better than the SEC,” Harris said in a November interview. “Then when I went there, you feel that thing in your body, like, ‘OK, this is where I want to go.’ I felt comfortable there. …
“But I got that feeling at Michigan, too, and Ohio State.”

Harris, 18, is the rare running back recruit who blends size (6-foot-3, 226 pounds), speed (4.5 in the 40-yard dash) and elusiveness. That became obvious as a junior, when he gained 2,744 yards rushing and scored 39 touchdowns in leading Antioch to an 11-0 regular season. The Panthers then lost to Foothill-Pleasanton in the North Coast Section Division I semifinals.

This past season, Harris rushed for 2,776 yards and scored 36 touchdowns as Antioch went 8-5 and reached the NCS championship game for only the second time in school history.

Harris finished his career with 7,948 yards rushing, the fourth-highest total in California history, according to Cal-Hi Sports. He also scored 99 touchdowns.

These gaudy numbers help explain the recruiting stampede to Antioch the past two years.

Harbaugh created a stir with his Oct. 14 visit to see Harris play. Two weeks later, Alabama assistant coach Tosh Lupoi and then-offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin watched (as did USC running backs coach Tommie Robinson) as Harris gained 175 yards in a lopsided victory over Heritage-Brentwood.

All three of those coaches, like Harbaugh, followed NCAA recruiting guidelines and avoided more than a passing hello to Harris. But Alabama reinforced its interest in early December, when Lupoi and head coach Nick Saban made a home visit to the Antioch apartment where Harris lives with his mother, Tianna Hicks.

Hicks posted photos on Twitter of Saban and Lupoi posing with her and a co-worker Dec. 7 at Kaiser’s offices in Walnut Creek, and later that night at home with her and Harris. Hicks also posted photos of their earlier visit to UCLA and subsequent visits to Cal and Michigan.

The recruiting race took its toll on Harris, who acknowledged his anxiety and stress as his final high school season unfolded. He became increasingly restless to leave Antioch and take the leap into the high-profile world of Division I college football.

As he said last month, “I’m ready for the next chapter in my life.”

No. 1 2017 recruit Najee Harris sticking with Alabama over Michigan or Cal, per reports

Thursday, sources told 247Sports that Harris planned to take a plane to California, his home state, after this weekend’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Wednesday, Tagovailoa told 247Sports that Harris would instead fly with him to Bama. Tagovailoa also said he would room with Harris in Tuscaloosa.

Giving Cal fans some hope in the week before this piece of news (it’s interesting to note reports broke of Cal head coach Sonny Dykes’ firing around the same time):

Harris is the biggest piece in a Bama recruiting class that currently ranks No. 1 on the 247Sports Composite for the seventh year in a row, though an Ohio State class that has more room to grow and currently has more five-stars could end the Tide’s streak. Between Harris, OT Alex Leatherwood, and LB Dylan Moses, Bama holds commitments from three of the country’s eight highest-rated 2017 recruits.

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