The chiseled 6-foot-2, 220-pound Class of 2017 running back looked down on the Inderkum High School sprint turf after the announcement was made, then looked back up and accepted the award with both hands, but pointed the gold souvenir at his TMP Elite teammates and told them “This was a team effort. This award is for the team.”
Harris - who holds 21 NCAA Division I scholarship offers and made a verbal commitment to Alabama on April 18 according to several media outlets - showed his teammates that he’s not a “me first” guy even with all the accolades he’s received. Instead, he expressed his smiling, humble side after a commanding performance at the PD regional.
“It feels good to win this as a team. I guess I’m excited about the MVP…but I really care about the team more,” Harris said.
He was a mismatch against the best Central and Northern California had to offer at the tournament held in North Sacramento. On offense, Harris powered through and side-stepped against different coverages, then emerged as one of TMP’s top scoring options including three scores in the 20-0 title game victory against Kenion Training DI Elite. One of his highlight plays was a one-handed grab that saw Harris turn his body, extend out his right hand, then cradle the ball into his chest while facing an aggressive cornerback who tried to blanket him.
He’s likely to play an integral role for TMP’s offense as the Northern California squad prepares for Passing Down’s Best of the West tournament on Sunday, April 26, with TMP among the top 16 teams vying for the 7on7 state title.
His big plays and personality immediately won over his TMP Elite head coach, Terrance Leonard, who helped coach other prominent recruits like Joe Mixon (Oklahoma), Adarius Pickett (UCLA), Isaiah Langley (USC), D.J. Calhoun (Arizona State), Michael Lazarus (Fresno State), etc.
“The one thing that works really well with Najee is that he sees who he’s playing next to on his team and he feeds off of them. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t like to do it alone,” Leonard said. “He talks to his guys in the huddle and tells them ‘Hey, let’s do this and that.’ And that’s what makes him successful.”
When the Friday night lights turn on at Antioch High School in the Bay Area, Harris doubles as a freight train primed to flatten someone to the turf or a corvette swerving through its lane. He not only pounds his shoulder into an oncoming defender and breaks loose for the long touchdown score, Harris knows how to stop his brakes, re-direct himself, then accelerate to the goal line.
His power and elusiveness got him to rumble his way to 2,263 rushing yards on 271 carries and 23 touchdowns for the Panthers in 2014-15.
Now, he’s been offered by the likes of Alabama, Michigan, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, TCU, USC and Washington. National recruiting websites Rivals! (Yahoo) and scout.com (Fox Sports) both list Harris as a five-star national recruit.
But again, the humbleness and competitive drive remains for Harris, according to Mori Suesue, who coaches him at Antioch High and trains Harris at Malu Fitness.
“The kid really knows what it means to eat cereal and water; he comes from nothing and wants to earn everything,” Suesue said. “The kid has over 20 offers, but still trains like he doesn’t have one (scholarship). And I think that’s what separates him from other kids.”
Suesue adds that Harris does community service through Malu Fitness; by feeding the homeless, mentoring young kids and collecting clothes so he can give it to the people without a home.
Harris’ big plays in shoulder pads and dri-fit/shorts have catapulted him to early stardom. The highlight reel plays also made him an unanimous choice for the MVP trophy at PD’s Cen Cal regional. But Harris showed that he’s not wasting his time celebrating the individual accomplishment. He wants to stay hungry with TMP Elite, as the Northern California squad prepares for a run at the Best of the West title at Fullerton College.
“We’ve got to get the squad together soon and handle more business,” Harris said. “I’m looking forward to going out there for more competitive competition.”
Best of the West: Passing Down's championship tournament starts at 9:30 a.m. with exhibition games to help start the festivities. The round of 16 playoffs kick off at 2 p.m., with the championship game scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Admission is free for the public.