With a smile nearly as wide as the talent gap between him and any other player on the field, a shoeless 2017 five-star running back Najee Harris gleefully posed with the city of Antioch’s Mayor’s Cup trophy and then each and every family member, friend and fan that came up to him after the game. Well, the remnants of a game that saw Harris’ Antioch Panthers throughly obliterate in-town rival Deer Valley, 62-9.
“It’s really fun because now we’ve got bragging rights,” Harris said. “We took down our crosstown rival, so it’s a good team win for all of us.”
The sweat had long since dried for Harris.
He was Antioch’s primary weapon in the first quarter, rushing for 101 yards and three touchdowns on his first eight carries before being used mostly as a decoy in the second quarter. His three touchdowns gave him 28 on the season, breaking a single season school record that was established in 1944.
Antioch established Harris early — his second carry he took up the middle, broke two tackles, shook a defender and outraced the secondary for a 66-yard touchdown run — and then pretty much gave him the rest of the night off.
Deer Valley sent waves of defenders to try to slow Harris after his great start, only to see the ball going the other way on a long misdirection touchdown run or floating through the air to an open receiver after a playaction fake to Harris. He spent the majority of the second quarter faking runs and sucking in half the Wolverine defense before getting the entire second half off. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, Harris was out of his cleats, walking around on the sideline in his socks.
But Harris was still locked into the game and was the first player to offer congratulations after a big play by a teammate. It was a stark contrast to the star’s demeanor on his own touchdown when he simply handed the ball to the referee and jogged back as if it were a practice rep. (To him, it probably was.)
“I try to act as a team captain, so I don’t really care for my touchdowns or the rushing yards that I have,” Harris said. “I care for my team more, so every time someone makes a big play, I like to celebrate with them to give them momentum and a push to say, ‘Alright I’m going to make another play, so that the whole team is going to be pumped.’
“Then the whole team is going to be ready for the next play and the next play after that. It’s something for the team to motivate us.”
Harris, who is committed to Alabama, will be one of the hottest names in recruiting next year, but his reputation already precedes him now, especially after performances like last week's 360 yards and six touchdowns rushing on 28 carries in a 55-37 win over Liberty. The top 2017 running back and possibly the top current high school running back in the country regardless of class, Harris has plenty of suitors that continue to try to sway him from his commitment to the Crimson Tide.
Though he wouldn’t mind a break from the recruiting talk, scholarship chatter and sales pitches, Harris remains in consistent contact with college coaches.
“I wish they would give me some quiet time right now. I’m trying to worry about my season, but it’s still the same stuff. DM-ing me. Same stuff. Calling, calling, calling. I’ve got school work and stuff, man,” Harris said with a chuckle. “I’m kind of tired of all this, but it’s the life I chose, so I’m still busy with the recruiting stuff.”
Harris said he is still hearing from the USC coaching staff despite the recent firing of head coach Steve Sarkisian.
“Even though the whole issue that happened over there, they still stay in contact with me,” Harris said. “Everybody makes mistakes, so it doesn’t really mean nothing. It doesn’t matter.”
Harris also planned to get an up-close look at the Trojans on Saturday afternoon when attending USC’s 27-21 victory at Cal’s Memorial Stadium.
But National Signing Day 2017 is a long way away and not something Harris seems to have any concern with currently. Instead, he’s focused in on this season and trying to take undefeated Antioch all the way to a state title. That road takes the Panthers across town to rival Pittsburg next week for “the game of the season for us,” according to Harris.
“That’s the biggest game. That’s the biggest game right there. That’s all that we’re worried about really right now.
"We can be real good," Harris said of his Panthers. "We’ve just got to work on a couple of more things and we’ll be a good team. Just a little bit more stuff and we’ll be good."
As for himself, Harris said there is a lot to his game that he can work on.
"Everything. Everything. Speed, vision, team blocking, mostly blocking because I’m not good at that. Cutting. I mean it’s just everything. It’s personality too, so it’s just everything. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve got to work on. I’m not there."
Just don't tell that to Deer Valley.