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Crimson Tide photos / Alabama running back Najee Harris hurdles Notre Dame cornerback Nick McCloud to ignite a 53-yard run during the Crimson Tide's 31-14 defeat of the Irish in last Friday's Rose Bowl national semifinal. Harris enters Monday night's national championship game against Ohio State as Alabama's all-time leading rusher.

Alabama senior running back Najee Harris doesn't remember the first time he hurdled a defender as a five-star talent at Antioch High in California.

Harris just remembers the motive.

"I was tired of getting chopped in the legs and the ankles," Harris said Wednesday, "It hurts, so I just started hurdling."

Until last Friday's 31-14 downing of Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl national semifinal, the most memorable Harris hurdle occurred on a 42-yard touchdown reception in last season's 47-24 win at South Carolina. During the first quarter against the Irish, the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder jumped higher and further to ignite a 53-yard run that now serves as his longest college carry.

It was quite the highlight for the fifth-place finisher in the Heisman Trophy voting, and it's also emblematic of the continuing commitment Harris made last January when he elected to return for his senior season with receiver DeVonta Smith, the Heisman winner, and Alex Leatherwood, the left tackle on the nation's top offensive line.

"We all came back after making the decision, and we all agreed that if we came back, we can't come back and walk through things and think it would be easy because we're seniors," Harris said. "We all bought into coming back 100% and show an example for the young guys of how we should practice and how we should play. I think that it's worked out so far."

Alabama is 12-0 with 11 Southeastern Conference victims entering Monday night's national championship game against Ohio State in Miami Gardens. The faces of this season's Crimson Tide have been quarterback Mac Jones, Smith and Harris, with Harris somehow getting overshadowed from time to time by the other two.

The 125-yard rushing performance by Harris in the Rose Bowl added to his career total that now stands at 3,764, the most of any running back in Crimson Tide history, and he is apparently even more impressive away from the hurdles that make the highlight reels.

"We all see what he does on the field, but what a lot of people don't see is the work he puts in behind the scenes," Leatherwood said. "He's definitely one of the hardest workers that I've ever met, and I'm glad to have him as a teammate, because his work ethic rubs off on people. He attacks every day with a purpose and intent to be the best that he can be. It's very inspiring, to be honest."

Said senior tight end Miller Forristall: "Najee is one of the hardest workers we have on our team, and I don't know if people appreciate that. He does a lot of work. Physically, his balance and his flexibility are the two things that impress me the most."

Harris has rushed 229 times this season for 1,387 yards and 24 touchdowns, with his 6.1 yards per carry matching his career clip. His 3,764 career rushing yards is accompanied by 702 career receiving yards, and he has reached the end zone 54 times during his time in Tuscaloosa.

Always one to entertain in news conferences, Harris revealed Wednesday why he chose to leave the Golden State in 2017 for Alabama as the nation's top running back prospect.

"For me personally, I feel like they say a lot of West Coast guys can't play in conferences like the SEC," Harris said, "so I wanted to kill that hype in a way and show that West Coast people can play. We have a lot more guys from the West Coast playing in the SEC than before. I think it's good for people to stay home, and I think it's good for people to go to other states to get a different environment.

"I've learned a lot of new things in my four years here. Over here it's humid, and at first I didn't like it, but when you're here long enough, you find out that it's the best place to train."

 

Wearing two hats

Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is also new Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian, a dual role he will maintain through Monday's championship contest.

"Quite honestly, my week has been a normal game week as if I hadn't have taken the Texas job," Sarkisian said. "My focus is on the game and my prepping for the game, and any of the spare time I do have, the job at Texas is getting my attention, whether that's staffing or recruiting or things of that nature. I would say, though, that my week has been as normal as it could be."

 

Mum's the word

Sarkisian and several Alabama offensive players were asked about junior receiver Jaylen Waddle's return from a broken ankle, but they couldn't offer any more specifics than what head coach Nick Saban provided Tuesday. Saban is hopeful of having Waddle, who had 25 receptions for 22.3 yards per catch in the Crimson Tide's first four games before suffering his injury on the opening kickoff at Tennessee on Oct. 24.

"He's actually looked really good," Jones said when asked about Waddle's availability, "but I don't really know if I can answer that question properly, because you have to ask Coach Saban and the training staff. He's worked really hard in his rehab, and we'll see what happens."

When Smith was asked about Waddle in practice, he responded, "He looks good to me." When asked if he thought Waddle would play, Smith replied, "No comment."

 

Quick celebration

After becoming Alabama's third Heisman winner Tuesday night and the first receiver to earn college football's top individual award since 1991, Smith was asked if he had a hard time going to bed after the ESPN-televised virtual ceremony.

"I went home and went straight to sleep," Smith said.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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