By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
By the time he visited Ann Arbor, Mich., last October, Damien Harris had pretty much already decided where he wanted to play football in college.
And as he stood on the field at Michigan Stadium prior to the annual Michigan-Michigan State showdown, he couldn’t help but feel right at home.
“It was by far the best atmosphere of any college football stadium I’ve been to,” Harris said on Tuesday. “There’s 100,000-plus people. It’s hard to put into words how great that is. For me, I just couldn’t get enough of it. That was one of the big factors that went into me going (to Michigan).”
The standout Madison Southern junior running back (5-foot-11, 210 pounds) had offers from Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida, Kentucky and many, many other schools, but the University of Michigan — the team he cheered for growing up — was always at the top of his list.
On Monday, Harris announced that he had verbally committed to play for the Wolverines.
“A lot of people knew that I grew up a Michigan fan,” Harris said. “Being able to grow up loving a school and then getting the opportunity to play there, it’s like a dream come true.”
The commitment came as a bit of surprise — not because of his choice of schools, but because of the timing.
Harris still had more than a year to make his decision.
Still, he didn’t see any need to wait.
He’d already made up his mind.
“It definitely felt like a weight off my shoulders because of having the pressure of trying to decide what school you want to go to,” Harris said. “You don’t have to worry (anymore) about contacting coaches, getting on campus and having to stay in the loop with all these different schools.”
In the past two years, Harris has been contacted by coaches from nearly every big-name college football program in the country.
And after a remarkable performance at the Under Armour All-American Combine in January in San Antonio, the Division I offers really started to pile up.
He visited several other campuses and even gave serious consideration to one of Michigan’s biggest rivals — Ohio State — but he never changed his mind.
He still wanted to be a Wolverine.
“I tried to force myself to look at some other options because I didn’t want to limit myself to one school,” Harris said. “In the end, it really wasn’t even close.”
At this time last year, Harris was not seriously considering a scholarship offer from Kentucky. But, after Mark Stoops was hired to take over the program in December, the Southern standout did have some interaction with the new coaching staff, including a couple of visits.
“They’ve got a great coaching staff (at Kentucky) and they are bringing in a lot of great players, but Michigan was the place I’ve know from day one that I wanted to go,” Harris said.
For Harris, Monday’s announcement was meant to mark the official end of the recruiting process.
Still, he knows that primarily because he committed so early that there will continued speculation about his future.
On Tuesday, he said his commitment to Michigan was 100 percent firm and that he wouldn’t even consider any other offers from this point forward.
“Once I gave my word, that’s my word,” Harris said. “I’m not going to have any coaches come see me at school. They are going to come to games, I’m sure. I can’t stop that. But, I’m not going to go to any other campuses or any other games. I’m sticking to my commitment.”
With that decision behind him, Harris can now fully focus on helping Madison Southern continue its recent resurgence.
Last season, the Eagles were 7-5 and won their first playoff game since 2005.
“Now I feel like I can help make my team better,” Harris said. “We are trying to do something special here. I don’t have to be distracted anymore.”
In 10 games last year, Harris had 1,911 yards on 160 carries. He scored 37 touchdowns and also caught five passes for 176 yards and three touchdowns.