By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
Coaches at some of the country’s elite major college football program have had Berea, Kentucky circled on their maps for some time now.
And those who didn’t know where Berea was before last weekend, they all know where it is now after the performance of Madison Southern’s Damien Harris at the Under Armour All-America Combine before last weekend’s U.S. Army All-American game in San Antonio Texas.
Harris was one of only 30 sophomores among the 500 players nationally invited to the combine which is designed to showcase the best football players in the country for scouting services Rivals, Scouts and 247Sports recruiting services which are used by every major college program in the country to evaluate talent.
Harris showed people on the national level what he has been showing people across the state of Kentucky on the football field the past two years; that is that he is a very special talent, by being named MVP of the combine by 247Sports.
“It is an honor just to get invited to something like this. You’re talking about 500 players nationally, that’s not a lot of players,” Southern coach Jon Clark said. “And to have people talk about you as one of the top performers at the entire event. It is great for the state, it’s great for our program, it’s great for our area and it’s really great for him.”
The players were put through a series of drills just like those done by college players at the National Football League combine before the draft each year, including bench pressing 185 pounds, a 20-yard shuttle, 40-yard dash, vertical leap and one-on-one drills with other players.
Clark said Harris performed well in each of the drills and surpassed the goals the two had set prior to the combine.
“In the 40-yard dash he wanted to be in the 4.3s, which he had never done and he did that. We wanted his shuttle time to be under 4.3 and he did it in 4.2 flat. He wanted his vertical to be in the low 30s and he jumped 32 and he beat his personal best in the bench press by two reps, so he achieved all the goals we set,” Clark said.
But it was the one-on-one drills, Clark said, where Harris was matched up against a linebacker running pass routes that Harris really shined.
“He dominated one-on-ones. He completely stood out. He did not drop a ball and he scored two touchdowns. So that was the area that surprised him the most. I wasn’t as surprised because I know he is capable of doing that, but I think that shocked him a little bit,” Clark said. “I think he expected to compete with those guys, but I don’t think he expected to perform as well as he did. I think he was a little surprised at how well he performed.”
Harris also did well in the off-the-field interviews and other aspects of the combine and it was the maturity he showed in those areas that had a lot of people talking at the combine, Clark said.
“Sure people wanted to talk about his 40 time and things, but the thing they commented to me most about was how mature and well spoken he was in the 20 or so television interview he went through down there,” Clark said. “I can’t stress to you enough how well his Mom has raised him. He feels blessed. He is a young man who wakes up every day and thanks God for his abilities and goes to work to try to make them better every day. He feels like he has an obligation to use what he was given. He truly feels that way and that is why he is going to be one of the best.”
Clark said the experience at the combine has inspired Harris, who was already driven to be successful, to an even higher level.
“He’s confident in his abilities now, but he’s not arrogant. He now knows what he is capable of and this has energized him. He is so highly motivated to be the best right now. He was up at 6 a.m. for workouts again Monday after we got home at 10 Sunday night,” Clark said. “If he never worked hard, he could be an All-State player and be one of the best. He understands that being a sophomore All-American is nice but there are a lot of other sophomores out there who are going to be good players and if he doesn’t do anything they are going to be better than him. To him it’s not about rankings or anything else. He wants to have options and pick the best school for him to help him go where he wants to do.”
Harris already has some pretty good options already, with nine scholarship offers from some of college footballs major powers, including Michigam, Ohio State, Tennessee, Illinois and Syracuse, Clark said, and after his performance last weekend, more will be pouring in.
“Damien has nine offers right now, but he grew up a Michigan fan and really likes them and Ohio State is appealing as well. They are the two that are the most appealing to him that have offered full scholarships so far,” Clark said. “But there are others that are in the mix as well. Alabama has invited him down this spring to practice. Then Oklahoma called and they are an intriguing school to him. I also think Oregon, Texas and Notre Dame are intriguing him too. My phone has not stopped ringing since we got home Sunday and I don’t think it will for the next two years.”
Harris played in 10 games for the Eagles in 2012, carrying the ball 160 times for 1,911 yards and scored 37 touchdowns. He also caught five passes for 176 yards and three touchdowns.
He was named to the MaxPreps Sophomore All-America team.