LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) – Madison Southern running back Damien Harris is considered by most recruiting services as the nation’s top-rated player at his position. Harris enters his senior season with scholarship offers from nearly every major football school in the country.
Initially committing to Michigan last summer, Harris re-opened his recruitment after leading the Eagles to 10-2 record this past season.
But Harris is being very careful with his decision, which he hopes to make by the end of December.
“I want to go to a school where I can get an excellent degree, a degree that will hold its value,” Harris told WKYT earlier this week. “Football ends at some point. As much as us football players don’t want it to, it will end some day.”
Harris said wherever he ends up, he wants to enroll early. He wants to study astronomy.
“It’s going to be hard, but I’m up for the challenge.”
Harris said deciding upon a school will be a life-changing event. He said one of the biggest factors will be whether the coaches and players foster a family environment.
“You’re mom isn’t there,” he said. “It’s just you and your football family. So you have to be close knit group wherever you go.”
Among his suitors is Mark Stoops. Harris, in his own words, said he wasn’t “too into Kentucky,” early on. But after seeing the momentum the new coaching staff has created around the Wildcats program, Harris has taken notice.
“I love coach Stoops. He’s showing me that he can turn the program around,” Harris said.
“The first thing he (Stoops) said to me when he came and visited me was ‘just give us a chance. Let us prove to you that we can turn this around. We can give you what you want in a premiere program.’”
“So I did,” Harris said. “I got really acquainted with the staff. I love all the coaches.”
Harris said he’s developed personal relationships with UK players, including quarterback Drew Barker and receiver Ryan Timmons.
“I get a great feeling when I’m on campus, when I’m around the coaches, when I’m around the players. It’s a different feeling than I get anywhere else.”
Growing up so close to UK, Harris admits there’s pressure to sign with the Wildcats.
“They’re in the process of this whole rebuild,” he added. “Everybody wants to say I can be one of the key pieces to help turn around the program. Part of me wants to see if I can.”
Harris resembles former Georgia great Herschel Walker, both in looks and running style. Harris even wears No. 34, like Walker. More than a few schools are betting he’ll put up Heisman-like numbers for their teams.
Harris said he trying to keep his emotions in check when considering those schools, including Kentucky.
“It’s a lot deeper for me,” he said, admitting he's not swayed by shiny helmets, fancy uniforms or big stadiums.
“I can’t put Kentucky at an advantage just because I’m from here. I have to put them on the same even playing field with everybody else.”
UK could hold an advantage in high performance coach Erik Korem, who recently was featured in Sports Illustrated for his cutting edge techniques in strength and conditioning.
“It’s definitely amazing what he’s doing,” Harris said. “Every time I take a visit to UK, they reassure me on what his position is.”
“It goes a lot into this process,” Harris continued. “It’s really important to be developed as much as you can, so I think about that a lot.”
Harris is one of 162 players invited to participate in next week's The Opening, a Nike-sponsored camp in Beaverton, Ore. He's the only player from Kentucky that will attend.
Harris and Madison Southern open the football season at home on Aug. 22 against Rockcastle Co.