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The story behind Najee Harris’ hurdles at Alabama began in high school

College football fans who don’t follow Alabama or running back Najee Harris were treated to a seldom-seen sight during the Crimson Tide’s 31-14 romp over Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl.

Harris, all 6-2, 230 pounds of him, leapt clear over Notre Dame’s 6-foot defensive back Nick McCloud en route to a 53-yard gain. That McCloud attempted to tackle Harris high instead of low only makes the feat all the more impressive:

For those who do watch the Crimson Tide, however, Harris’ hurdle was merely the latest in a long line at Alabama; he has been known to hurdle defenders ever since his freshman campaign and beyond. Said teammate DeVonta Smith after the game: “That’s what he do on the regular. That’s just something that we see normally.”

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Prior to his hurdle over McCloud, Harris’ signature move might have come against South Carolina the year prior: He caught a pass out of the backfield from Tua Tagovailoa, stiff-armed a defender, hurdled another and broke one final tackle en route to a 42-yard touchdown reception.

Indeed, it’s a move Harris has made use of since his days at Antioch (Calif.) High School, where he was the No. 2 player in the class of 2017.

Alabama coach Nick Saban, for his part, has done his best to keep Harris from such highlight reel plays, as he revealed after the Notre Dame game:

“I actually try to teach him not to do it,” Saban said, “but it didn’t work.”

But, unlike Harris’ hurdles, there’s nothing fantastic about how and why he started the practice. When asked about it ahead of the CFP title game, the Alabama running back said it was merely a way to avoid painful tackles.

“I mean, it’s cool. I don’t really remember the first hurdle really,” Harris told reporters during a Wednesday Zoom call. “But I mean, it was just a way — so I got tired of getting chopped in the legs, man, in the ankles. It hurts. I guess I just started hurdling. I don’t really remember the first hurdle, though.”

So, there you have it: a mundane origin to an otherwise highlight-reel play. Whether Harris can go airborne once more in college remains to be seen. We’ll find out when No. 1 Alabama takes on No. 3 Ohio State in the College Football Playoff championship game on Monday.

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