One of the most notable visits of the Jim Harbaugh era took place last month when Antioch (Calif.) running back Najee Harris made his way to Ann Arbor for the Wolverines’ “Barbecue at the Big House.” Just as noteworthy was the fact that his mother Tiana Hicks made the trip also. Prior to that her son had already been to numerous campus visits, but she had only accompanied him on a small number of them.
“We’ve gone to Kansas, BYU, Michigan and Alabama,” Hicks told Scout.com.
“Kansas was honestly my first trip… kind of for me to get my head together on what to expect on college tours... what questions I need to ask. I looked at that as my training for what’s to come. What do I need to ask? What do I wanna see?”
“BYU… we were invited there, so we (accepted) the invitation. The coaches are friends (of his high school coach) and whatnot. We went to a recruiting event.”
In other words the only school she’d visited in the early portion of her son’s recruitment that he was seriously interested in was Alabama. Michigan was determined to change that. The Wolverines began by working diligently over the spring and summer to increase Harris’ interest, even adding Antioch one of the stops on their June satellite camp tour. They followed that up by inviting mother and son to Ann Arbor a few months later.
“(Harbaugh) came here and he asked for us to visit, so we returned the favor,” Mrs. Hicks said. “He invited us… came all the way this way. I know that was in part to see Najee, so we could at least check out your campus.”
Mom’s pre-existing affinity for Michigan’s headman certainly didn’t hurt the Wolverines’ cause..
“I’m a 49er fan, so I liked Harbaugh for what he did for my team the Niners,” she explained. “I can’t lie about that. He was a great coach for my team and got me some championships, so I respect him on those levels.”
Looking back on the visit experience her impression of the school mirrored her positive view of Harbaugh.
“Michigan was nice,” she said with a smile. “Michigan was nice, nice campus.”
“It was a nice visit. It was a nice visit. We had fun. They had a little maize, run, tour. That made it fun.”
But fun on a visit doesn’t equate to her son being ready to change his mind. Some campus bystanders found that out when he recognized the talented youngster and made a presumptuous comment.
“They were like, ‘you’re gonna flip’ and he got kind of offended,” Mrs. Hicks recalled.
(Najee said) ‘Flipping? I’m just visiting.’ The guy said, ‘oh, I’m sorry.’ He (Najee) said, ‘no, you said flip. We’re just visiting.’”
It’s going to take more than one favorable visit experience to pry the nation’s top recruit away from the Tide. To mom that much is clear.
Said Hicks, “he feels real good about Alabama. That’s all that matters to me right now.”
That’s the tack that most parents take in recruiting. Worry about pleasing yourself and forget what people think about it. That’s why she has been ultra-supportive of her son’s desire to look around.
“I think you should (take visits),” she said. “I’m all-Bama, but it’s not my choice. It has to be his choice. So let him go look or whatever he wants.”
“Even though he committed to Alabama he wants to go out and take a look around because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You’re not gonna get this chance to go and do it again.”
The question now is has his curiosity already been satisfied enough to definitively determine his future? Are there going to many more visits, official or otherwise, on his fall itinerary?
“I don’t think so,” Hicks replied. “He doesn’t even really want to do the visits that he wants to go on. He’s already seen the places, so for him, you want us to come back and do an official? He’s kind of set already. It’s like, ‘I don’t need to go back if I’ve already been there.’”
“He just wants to get it (the process) done. Like, it’s time to move on now and get it done. No need to keep going back and forth.”
If he does get out on some officials the one certain stop is Tuscaloosa. Anything beyond that appears to be up in the air.
“Alabama, I know, we may do that one on our bye (week),” Mrs. Hicks reported, “Everything else has to be kind of scheduled around our season. Most of our games are on Friday nights and they want us to see their games on Saturdays. That’s gonna be hard to juggle.”
Interview with Tiana Hicks conducted by Bama Mag’s A.P. Steadham