MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Damien Harris bucked the trend of Alabama's recent starting tailbacks, who follow up big seasons with early departures for the NFL.
Instead, Harris opted to stick around for his senior season.
The decision gives the defending national champion Crimson Tide's already talented backfield a big boost, and provides Harris a chance to become the program's first three-time 1,000-yard rusher and maybe even breaking the career record.
Harris was a potential early round NFL draft pick if he had turned pro but said the decision really "wasn't that hard."
"I just wanted to be a part of this program for another year," he said. "I could give you guys a lot of Xs and Os for why I should leave or why I should stay, but at the end of the day, I felt very blessed to be a part of this program for three years.
"When I was making my decision, that was kind of what was heavy on my mind. This program has been so good to me and the people that have been a part of this program have done a lot for me, and I'm incredibly thankful. So I just want another year of this."
The decision fortified 'Bama's backfield even after backup Bo Scarbrough opted to leave early for the NFL, along with four teammates. Josh Jacobs and freshmen Najee Harris and Brian Robinson all averaged more than 6 yards per carry last season.
None was as productive as Harris , though. He ran for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging a healthy 7.4 yards per carry.
With 2,194 yards, Harris can become the program's eighth runner to reach 3,000 yards and fifth since coach Nick Saban arrived in 2007. Predecessors Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Glen Coffee all stuck around only three seasons before turning pro.
Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner, holds Alabama's career mark with 3,591 yards. Ingram, who won the 2009 Heisman, and Richardson were both first-round picks.
Harris acknowledges, almost reluctantly, that the possibilities for moving up in the Tide's record books have crossed his mind even if it doesn't seem "politically correct."
"I'd be lying to you if I told you I hadn't ever thought about it," he said. "I mean, at the end of the day, that's not what motivates me. What motivates me is being a part of this team, being a leader for this team and being the best player that I can be to help this team be successful."
Harris has partnered with a running quarterback in Jalen Hurts and has never even had 20 carries in a game . Scarbrough made such a splash in the playoffs two seasons ago that he was widely labeled Alabama's next star tailback.
Harris didn't relinquish that role.
While not nearly as prolific as, say, Henry, he has been productive and efficient.
Harris is averaging 6.7 yards per carry in his career, while none of those other backs averaged six.
He could be poised to earn an NFL paycheck now. Other top SEC runners like LSU's Derrius Guice and Auburn's Kerryon Johnson are NFL-bound. So are Georgia's Nick Chubb and Sony Michel , who also returned for their senior seasons and helped lead the Bulldogs to the national championship game against Alabama.
Harris said he got a mixed reaction to his decision, with some people surprised and others praising him for making a good call. Not that he needed such assurances.
"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion," he said. "I have mine, which is why I'm back here, so it doesn't really matter too much."
More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 .
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