Najee Harris is already making his mark on and off the field in Pittsburgh
Najee Harris is getting a lot of attention for his performance on and off the field.
The Steelers’ three-day rookie minicamp took place last weekend at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex in Pittsburgh and included 17 members of the team's rookie class, including the former Alabama star running back, 12 first-year players and five tryouts.
One thing is for sure: The 23-year-old Harris isn’t your typical rookie.
His name has been circulating recently because of his athleticism on the field, as well as his humorous personality, which was on full display at one of the Steelers’ post-practice media conferences.
Harris didn’t speak to the media after day one, but he met with reporters on Saturday.
That day, he made an impressive, one-handed catch over his head before nearly hauling in another pass behind his back along the sideline, showing off his ball-hawking skills.
Later, DK Pittsburgh Sports writer Dale Lolley asked him about the catch.
"You saw that? … You guys were here?" Harris asked confusedly.
"Yeah, we were here," Lolley replied.
"Where were you guys at?" Harris continued.
"We were up on the balcony," Lolley said.
"Man, I thought y’all were boosters! That’s crazy," Harris exclaimed.
Harris kept up with the cheeky replies when asked more about the catch.
"Are those things that you feel like maybe two years ago you might not have been able to do, make those kinds of plays?" Lolley continued. "Is that why you went back to Alabama that last year – to get better at that part of your game?"
"Bro, what?" Harris said, met with laughs from other reporters. "Where you from? You always cover [the] Pittsburgh Steelers?"
Harris was also asked what his first taste of NFL life has been like, and he told reporters it might be too early to tell, but one thing's for sure: He's "got hella free time compared to Alabama."
When asked if he wants to be a leader in the Steelers organization like he was at Alabama, Harris let it be known that he has no intention of fading into the background.
"I would never try to blend in nowhere," Harris said confidently. "I try to stand out in my own way because I’m me, so I feel like I always stand out."
In that same post-practice interview, when asked for his initial thoughts on Harris’ performance at minicamp, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had nothing but good things to say about his first-round pick.
"He is [as] highly conditioned as anybody out there," Tomlin said. "And that’s a great place to begin. I think he’s got a nice foundation from that perspective. He’s a sharp guy. He’s a football guy. You can tell he’s passionate about football. He can articulate the game very well, so it’s a lot to be excited about."
Watch the team's full media conference here:
Standing out and performing at the highest level isn’t unfamiliar territory for the California native, who was the No. 1 recruit in the country coming out of high school in 2017, according to Rivals.com. He was rated No. 2 by 247Sports, behind former University of Miami linebacker and fellow 2021 first-round draft pick Jaelan Phillips, and ESPN had Harris ranked No. 3.
Harris received 27 offers from top football programs in four of the five Power 5 conferences, including the Georgia Bulldogs, LSU Tigers, Michigan Wolverines, Ohio State Buckeyes, USC Trojans and Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Harris committed to Alabama in 2015 but didn’t see much of the field until his junior year in 2019. In his first two years in Tuscaloosa, he didn’t start, as his former teammates and current NFL running backs Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Josh Jacobs handled the majority of Alabama’s workload.
Harris carried the ball 61 times for 370 yards and three touchdowns in his first season with the Crimson Tide. He added six catches for 45 yards and won his first national championship with Alabama. In his sophomore season, Harris once again had limited carries and zero starts, sitting third on the depth chart. He recorded 783 rushing yards on 117 carries and four touchdowns.
In his third season at Alabama, Harris started 12 games and earned second-team All-SEC honors. He recorded 1,224 yards on 209 carries while catching 27 passes for 304 yards and 20 total touchdowns.
After speculation that he might declare for the 2020 NFL Draft, Harris opted to return to Alabama for his fourth and final season, winning his second national championship in four years.
That season, Harris was named the SEC Championship Game MVP and won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top back, as well as being awarded first-team All-SEC and unanimous All-America honors. He finished the season with 251 carries for 1,466 rushing yards, 425 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns.
Harris set Alabama career records with 3,843 rushing yards and 46 rushing touchdowns, surpassing the previous record held by Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry (42). He is the Crimson Tide's all-time leader in total touchdowns in a career, with 57 (46 rushing and 11 receiving).
He was chosen by the Steelers with the No. 24 overall pick in the 2021 draft. He was the first of two running backs selected in the first round, ahead of Travis Etienne.
Steelers’ organized team activities (OTAs) and offseason workouts resume May 25-27, June 2-4 and June 14-17 ahead of mandatory minicamp June 8-10.
For everyone's sake, we'll hope for more of these lighthearted interviews from Harris.
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