By Luke Johnson
Najee Harris will become the first Antioch High School alum to play in a national championship game in college football.
The true freshman running back and No. 4 Alabama upset No. 1 Clemson in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day, 24-6. The Crimson Tide now faces No. 3 Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship in Atlanta tonight at 5:17 p.m. (Pacific)
“If [Alabama] wins, it will be big, but I also think it will push him even more to get it again next year,” Harris’ personal trainer and close friend Marcus Malu said. “I think Antioch, as a city and a school, that we need to build on that, [and] make sure that we don’t have a one-hit wonder, and turnout some more kids.”
Harris has rushed for 306 yards, 5.6 yards per carry and three touchdowns this season, on top of six receptions for 45 yards. His longest reception came last week for 22 yards — a game in which he had no carries.
Alabama’s ground game has been led by juniors Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough — who are potential prospects for this year’s NFL Draft. Damien Harris is projected to be picked in the second or third round while Scarbrough is expected to be selected between the third and fifth rounds, according to Senior Draft Analyst Charlie Campbell of Walter Football.
Najee Harris has been Alabama’s third option at running back with only 55 carries this season. However, Malu feels his limited action may be a good thing. Harris holds every rushing record at Antioch High School — including carries with 838. He played the majority of his senior year (291 carries) with a knee injury that he hid from the public, for which he underwent surgery last January.
Malu believes this was a productive year for Harris to allow his banged-up body to recover while getting acclimated to the highest level of competition in college football. Although Malu still hopes Harris is utilized and has an excellent performance during tonight’s contest.
“He understands that it’s a process,” Malu said. “If he gets in I’m sure they’ll give him a few touches. If he doesn’t, he understands that this is the business.”
With a lot of local anticipation for this upcoming game between two teams in the Southeastern Conference, Malu said that people come up to him at least three to four times per day to ask about Harris.
“They say, ‘Hey, is the kid gon’ play? Is the kid gon’ get some touches?’ And I’m like, ‘Man, you know, you should be emailing [coach] Nick Saban,’” Malu said while chuckling.
The game will air on ESPN. For more information about the NCAA National Championship football game click here.