The highlights can be fun. The big runs can be exhilarating. The blowouts can be enjoyable.
But what really gets Alabama’s Najee Harris going is that Monday night, the Crimson Tide will be facing the nation’s second-best run defense, knowing it will be hard and that there will be adversity.
“For me, [the excitement level] increases 100 percent,” the star running back said over Zoom as Alabama prepared to face Ohio State in the College Football Playoff national championship game Monday night in Miami Gardens, Fla. “The best thing that can happen or the best thing you can do to get me excited is say, ‘Look, this is going to be the best whatever we play against, the best run defense, the best pass defense, the best talent.’
“That’s one thing that really excites me in the game of football, really, is just knowing that across the ball is good competition, great competition, people that’s going to be on the next level, people who won all these awards, stuff like that.”
Alabama may be a significant favorite and expected to complete a perfect season, but the title game should be difficult for Harris. The Buckeyes allow just 89.1 rushing yards per game. They shut down Clemson’s star running back, Travis Etienne, in the semifinal Sugar Bowl, limiting him to 32 rushing yards on 10 carries, and didn’t allow a single 100-yard rusher all season. But that doesn’t scare Harris, who was the Doak Walker Award winner as the nation’s best running back. If anything, that motivates him. He lives for this kind of challenge.
“I know that it ain’t going to be easy,” said Harris, who led the nation with 27 total touchdowns and rushing TDs (24), and was the SEC leader in rushing yards (1,387). “It ain’t going to be no big runs like that. It ain’t going to be no … hurdles and stuff like that or any, like, explosive plays. It’s going to be their best against our best, and then I’ve got to make the most of it, and that’s what I like.”
Despite his huge season, Harris was somewhat overshadowed by Alabama’s electric passing game and Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith’s magical season. Harris did take center stage in the CFP semifinals, running for 125 yards on 15 carries. That included an incredible hurdle that went viral, in which Harris leaped over a defender during a 53-yard run. He has gone to the hurdle a few times this year and it has become part of his game. It goes back to his days in high school in Antioch, Calif.
“I got tired of getting chopped in the legs, man, in the ankles. It hurts,” Harris said with a smile. “I guess I just started hurdling.”
But don’t expect him to be leaping over defenders Monday night, and that’s just fine with Harris. This is the kind of game he loves to play.