On Thursday night the Pittsburgh Steelers chose Alabama running back Najee Harris in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. There’s a list of reasons why the Steelers made Harris the first running back selected by the organization in round one since 2008, a list that begins with his rare combination of size, speed and physicality.
But there’s one thing about his game that his mom, Tianna Hicks, doesn’t like.
“The hurdle—that scares my life,” she admits in episode 2 of AL.com’s documentary series Najee Harris: Road to the Pros. “Yes, the hurdle. I don’t like the hurdle.”
Of course, Hicks is referring to her son’s habit of hurdling would-be tacklers.
In fact, when she first saw him hurdle the opposition—in high school—she exclaimed: “You can’t do that. We gotta figure out another way ’cause that’s dangerous. I can see somebody just catching you in the air and, oh my God, you helicoptering, spinning across the field.”
But that didn’t deter Harris from continuing to humiliate opponents by leaping over them.
“I’ll just get better at it,” he told his mom.
“The first [hurdle] was sophomore year,” says John Lucido, head coach at Antioch High School in Antioch, Calif., where Harris went to high school. “The guy was standing straight up and he just jumped right over him. The guy just totally missed.”
Yet Lucido insists that Harris doesn’t go out of his way to hurdle the opposition.
“It became something natural for him. It was never planned,” he added, during the aforementioned documentary. “A lot of people don’t know [this but] he doesn’t go into a game saying ‘I’m going to hurdle someone.’ That’s not his objective. That’s not what he is looking to do.”
That’s probably a good thing, because it carries an added amount of risk, especially at the NFL level.
“I think [Nick] Saban didn’t like it either,” says Tosh Lupoi, a former Alabama assistant coach, referring to the head coach of the Crimson Tide.
Najee Harris’ Relationship with Nick Saban
Speaking of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, episode two of Najee Harris: Road to the Pros features Harris talking extemporaneously about his relationship with Saban, admitting that the pair got off on the wrong foot when he first arrived in Tuscaloosa.
“We had a lot of differences at first, let’s just say that,” says Harris in the documentary.
For one, Saban didn’t appreciate how often Harris would get into fights in practice.
“Goddammit 22, it’s always you. It’s always you fighting. You get in another one, you’re out of practice,” recalls Harris, imitating Saban’s voice.
But the 23-year-old running back says the pair built up a great relationship, to the point where the two would regularly “talk s*** to each other,” as Harris puts in. “Me and him have a really, really special relationship. That’s why I like that little man,” he says with a smile.
Now Harris will be looking to build a relationship with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who welcomed his new running back to the NFL by saying, “You ready to do this, young man?”
‘You ready to do this, young man?’
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 30, 2021
What Are the Steelers Getting with Najee Harris?
Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers offense get a running back who is 6-foot-1 and 232 pounds, one who produced 1,466 rushing yards (5.8 per carry), plus 43 catches for 425 yards and 30 TDs in 2020.
All told he rushed for 3,843 yards at Alabama and scored 57 touchdowns from scrimmage, a school record. He also broke Derrick Henry’s record for career rushing touchdowns at the school, with 46 for Harris as compared to 42 for Henry, who won the AP Offensive Player of the Year in 2020 after rushing for 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Tennessee Titans.
As for the hurdling, it should be interesting to see if Tomlin tries to discourage Harris from making it a common occurrence in the NFL.
After all, Harris has done it enough that there’s a four-and-half-minute highlight reel on YouTube that consists of nothing more than him hurdling would-be tacklers. See for yourself below: