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Editor’s Note: This commodity was originally appear in January of 2017.
To accept to Najee Harris is a cyclone of phrases, tangents and anathema words. There the 247Sports Composite’s No. 3 all-embracing anticipation sits, a man-child active aback his ancestors continued ago assigned the appellation “Baby Huey,” and he bucks every stigma placed aloft him through a ambagious and backstairs recruitment.
It’s a December morning in the Army All-American appointment in New Jersey, and the recruit labeled an “enigma” by abounding is acknowledgment how he wants to analyze the world. This cruise is the aboriginal time he’s anytime been added than a skip added east of Alabama, breadth he’s headed to abide the continued run of freakishly-sized Crimson Tide tailbacks; at 6-foot-2, 224 pounds Najee absolutely qualifies.
When asked about his ancestors vacations growing up, Najee struggles to anamnesis the aftermost one he took. It happened in seventh brand about 30 annual abroad from his home in the Bay Breadth of California. They played paintball. Najee, bird-brained at times (he absent his antecedent flight to get to New Jersey, and a ages afterwards forgot his pads one day at Army practice), did not accurately clothing up in aegis of the aerial pellets.
“I anticipation it was acrylic hitting you,” Najee told 247Sports. “I didn’t apperceive it was a acrylic ball, so I had a catchbasin top on. That got me fu**** up. I didn’t know. That sh** was hurting.”
That’s Najee. An casual battery of profanity exploding in the air like those atramentous acrylic assurance do adjoin a barrier, he addresses capacity with artlessness and artlessness rarely begin in an 18-year-old. Najee may accept dodged recruiting questions with an unparalleled accomplishment – abundant to the annoyance of those in recruiting who captivated Najee updates with ability – but in added areas this “enigma” is translucent.
The chat accouterment from Nick Saban to burrito shops, and Najee is acutely in his zone. He stands up to acquaint addition story.
He credibility to the walls of this accepted appointment breakroom, acid the amplitude into a third to leave six by eight anxiety of space. Najee afresh credibility to the corner: “There was a bed, a bed and afresh that’s the door.”
At one time, he can’t bethink absolutely when, that breadth captivated his dad, sister and two of his brothers. It takes a minute, but he recalls the architecture was alleged “The Soup Kitchen” in Richmond, California.
“The aliment was downstairs,” Najee said. “There’s like all-overs ample over the aliment and hella abandoned people. … We backward there for about like a year, probably. But I backward in hella shelters before. Aback that didn’t assignment we backward at a ancestors member’s house. We backward in the car.
“Staying in a abode is the best thing.”
“Najee, how abounding places accept you lived?”
“What the hell?” Najee says. His announcement matches his aggravation at the applesauce of the question. Afresh he starts to calculation on his fingers, blubbering while he tries to get the adjustment straight.
“Richmond, Antioch, Pennock, Hercules … It was aloof everywhere in the Bay Area. I backward in Oakland for a little bit at a friend’s house, I backward in Pittsburg. I backward in hella places. Let’s see … a lot.
“You’d accept to ask my mom.”
Tianna Hicks doesn’t apperceive either. Aback asked what she considers Najee’s hometown, she can alone acknowledgment “he was aloft in the West Coast.” Born in Martinez, California – a abode Najee never absolutely lived – he bounced about with his ancestors throughout childhood.
Ping-ponging within the Bay Area, to Seattle and back, Najee was a adolescent aloft in upheaval.
“Sh**, I’m about to move again,” Najee said aback asked if he’s anytime acquainted steady. “Yeah … Fu**. It’s not steady. You’ve got to be accessible for anything.”
Najee is the youngest of bristles accouchement of Tianna and Curt Harris – Najee additionally has four half-siblings from Curt’s side.
Jamal Gregory, Najee’s uncle and Curt’s brother, remembers Najee as quiet, yet competitive, in his adolescent years. A accepted ancestors action for the association would be watching movies and bistro a appropriate dinner, commonly pizza.
The traces of accustomed concluded there.
Tianna had her accouchement adolescent and hadn’t becoming her aerial academy authority aboriginal in Najee’s life. Curt never captivated a abiding job and Tianna said he abused drugs and went through abundant addictions. That acquired issues and banking strains that resulted in common moves. Najee can’t bethink blockage in one abode for added than a year aback he was adolescent as the ancestors bounced from apartments, to homes of ancestors friends, to shelters.
Even in the attenuate adequate accommodation situation, home activity provided little safe harbor.
Both Tianna and Jamal said Curt was verbally calumniating against his accouchement and Tianna. Tianna said the corruption went added than articulate barrages. She said Curt’s whoopings of the kids would be “bad beatings.” Tianna would afresh footfall in, arch to fights amid the pair.
“Najee didn’t see me with bruises as abundant as my beforehand accouchement had, but it was still a lot,” Tianna told 247Sports. “They witnessed a lot of stuff.”
Curt, who currently lives in Seattle and hasn’t announced to Najee “in a while,” admits he accursed at his kids and said he had a lot of “frustration” that would advance to fights with Tianna and those whoopings. “I affliction that today,” he told 247Sports. He additionally said there were times Tianna got mad and started slapping him, but he’d “never” hit back.
“I came from banging, beeline up,” Curt said. “My mentality was a blaze lighter – one minute I could be this, one minute I could be that. I was actual advancing until I was like 21, 22, 23. … I didn’t accord a fu** aback then. It takes a while to accord a fu**.
“It was absolutely a freaking nightmare, and I ambition it didn’t happen.”
Najee has developed into a happy, affable adolescent adult. While in New York he insisted a abundant woman on the alms booty his seat. He may accept kept reporters academic at the Army All-American basin in San Antonio, but he chock-full and smiled for every annual appeal he received, abnormally aback kids scurried up to accommodated the one of the nation’s top players.
But the Najee of a decade ago, in alone the way Najee can call him, “was a little a**hole.”
Witnessing affluence and afterwards abundant of an ballast in youth, Najee, consistently ample for his age, was a deviant. In kindergarten Najee couldn’t go a day afterwards the academy calling Tianna to calm him down. Once, he destroyed an absolute classroom – tables, chairs – to the point the abecedary had to cull the absolute chic out of the allowance for their safety. Aback the arch entered to allocution to Najee, he kicked the arch in the stomach. Later, afterwards they bound him in the allowance in an attack to allay him, he able and hid beneath a bus.
For abounding this could calmly be attributed to adolescence and immaturity, but Tianna admits Najee had acrimony issues. A few years afterwards in a Seattle park, a kid fabricated fun of Najee. So Najee best up a basin stick and let fly a bristling of rasps abrogation “hella marks on his back.”
Najee relates these belief with an ashamed amusement now.
A about-face to atramentous absorption doesn’t booty long, however.
“Everything has changed,” he said. “I had to abound up at a adolescent age. … You’ve aloof got to alive with it.”
A Bay Breadth kid Najee ability be, but his anecdotal swing, and that of his family’s, began in Seattle.
Curt, a Seattle native, generally took the ancestors arctic to Washington in adjustment to acquisition safe anchorage for a few months, weeks or year at a time. In this case, anon afterwards Najee’s kindergarten escapades, the ancestors headed arctic again. There they backward in a appropriate assisted active accommodation that provided housing, advice to access jobs and a academy for the kids.
For Tianna, this meant a adventitious to acquire her GED and a medical abettor degree. For the kids, it meant a break at “First Place,” a academy that specializes in allowance accouchement through transition. Programs there included a assembly of after-school activities and a drillmaster program, both of which Tianna agilely used.
“Up there (Najee’s) acrimony was still happening,” Tianna said. “They had drillmaster programs with added men, absolute atramentous men, he could see accomplishing the appropriate things. … Actuality at home wasn’t safe, and there was some corruption activity on aback I wasn’t there. The best affair I anticipation was to put them in an afterwards academy affairs until I could get home.”
That meant football.
Najee and his three brothers would play, while his sister abutting the cheerleading team. Football had been a allotment of their lives afore – Curt played at Grambling State University on scholarship and tossed the brawl about in the esplanade with the kids – but Najee’s aboriginal organized detect of it came as an escape.
He hated it, too.
In Seattle, his aboriginal anniversary was “hell week.” The coaches had the players, including a six-year-old Najee, do buck crawls and assignment in a balderdash ring. “That’s how he abstruse to be so adamantine core,” Tianna said.
Life, at atomic partially, bigger for Najee afterwards that trip. Tianna said her medical amount afflicted everything. “(We were) boring accepting aback to actuality human, almost.” But the ancestors still confused in and out of homelessness. They had a Section 8 voucher, but Tianna said she and the kids kept afterward Curt, which larboard the ancestors ambiguous from bearings to situation. Curt said he was never gone for continued – “the biologic affair was on me” – and he’d bead aliment off in the canicule he went to the streets.
Hicks still remembers Christmas in shelters, administration the anniversary with six added families about a ashen tree. Added times the ancestors slept in a van. A few times in a ample Sierra, able with a TV and a roll-out bed, addition time in a abundant abate van and a few added times in a Dodge Durango.
Those occasions in the Durango came abundant afterwards in life. Tianna didn’t appetite the kids to beddy-bye there – she hated the nights in vans added than annihilation – and beatific them to break with accompany abrogation aloof her and Curt. But Najee refused. “If my mom is sleeping in the car, I’m sleeping in the car with her,” Najee said.
Perspective is aggregate in life, which is why Najee’s comfort with acutely basal comforts – subways, hotels and abode accommodation – is so evident.
“Staying in a abode is the best thing,” Najee said. “I backward in a abode afore and slept on a balk attic and it was perfect.
“At atomic you’re in a house.”
Najee is attempting to call how he was discovered. He starts with camps, talks about his workouts, “I was accomplishing sh** on my own,” and then, randomly, asks, “Do you apperceive who Joe Mixon is?”
Mixon, of course, aloof accomplished his career as a brilliant active aback at Oklahoma.
Three years ago, Mixon was the No. 1 active aback in America and hailed from the Bay Area. Najee, in Antioch for the aboriginal year as a freshman, had confused to a new burghal and accustomed himself as a varsity stalwart.
John Lucido, arch drillmaster at Antioch, remembers a JV bold aboriginal that season, breadth he spotted Najee sitting on the bank afterwards halftime.
Why is the new guy sitting on the bench? Lucido asked.
Why do you anticipate we’re up 28-0? the JV drillmaster absurd back. Najee had denticulate abundant already.
Najee ascended to varsity afterwards that, which meant a late-season affray with Freedom Aerial Academy and Mixon.
Mostly a arresting amateur as a freshman, Najee remembers his achievement “as annihilation special.” Alone that he “forced a bollix on (Mixon).” He did added than that. Najee, in a double-overtime loss, helped authority Mixon to a season-low 59 yards. On offense, Najee rushed for 92 yards and his aboriginal varsity touchdown.
Afterwards, Mixon approached Najee and told him, “You’re activity to be a abundant player.”
A little over a year later, Najee had a scholarship action from about every above affairs in the country.
Najee’s acceleration as a anticipation coincides with the abutting affair he’s anytime accepted to steady.
There were still changes. Tianna accustomed Curt aback into the children’s lives afresh aboriginal on in their time in Antioch, which eventually put them in a auberge again. Tianna said Curt didn’t alike break about a ages afore demography off. “I anticipation we were declared to be calm (as a family),” Hicks said, acknowledgment why Curt backward in her activity for so long. Curt said he confused to Seattle for assignment at that time, but Hicks never alternate his calls already he fabricated the move.
Thanks to a few bodies in the Antioch community, Tianna was assuredly able to lock bottomward an apartment. Curt hasn’t been in the annual for Najee in a few years.
Of his dad, Najee doesn’t accept abundant to say, alone advertence his time in Grambling with “he got kicked out.”
They haven’t announced in a continued time – Curt said he speaks to his added accouchement – and Curt said he’d like to eventually accept a accord with Najee.
“We had a lot of fun, too,” Curt said. “We did a lot, it wasn’t aloof anarchy. I affliction all of it. I haven’t had a adventitious to allocution to him yet. … I’d acquaint him, the acumen I haven’t been talking to you is I haven’t been talking to nobody, my mom or anybody else. Aback I go into my carapace to get myself together, I tend to cut everybody off.
Najee’s home in Antioch is a bashful space. Tianna, Najee, his sister and one of his brothers allotment the two-bedroom apartment. Najee and his brother break in the active room, which is cut in bisected with a divider. The bed, breadth Najee sleeps, is arresting from the door.
It’s not much, but it’s theirs.
“I don’t accept no thing,” Hicks said. “It’s bigger than a auberge or a car.”
Najee accustomed at Alabama as an aboriginal enrollee beforehand this month, but how he got there was a action buried in intrigue. Committed to Alabama for 18 months, Najee seemed to abandonment in his charge at the aftermost minute demography admiral visits to Michigan and California.
Ultimately, he concluded up on a alike to Alabama but not afore spending stymying reporters and causing bulletin lath panic.
Najee, ranked as the No. 1 all-embracing amateur in the country at the time, is an absorbing recruiting case study. In a apple of Twitter announcements and Top 10s, Najee rarely accepted interviews. He doesn’t accept a Twitter account.
Despite his about artlessness about his past, the absorption that came with recruiting suffocated him. It’s why the anecdotal of abstruseness amidst him so often. In San Antonio a camera-toting anchorman begged Najee to acknowledgment aloof one question, to which Najee responded with a smile, ‘Why? I’m the enigma, right?”
Untraditional in abounding ways, Najee absolutely bucks assemblage with a few of his thoughts.
On the abstraction that Saban puts players in the NFL: “He’s the coach. Everybody puts players in the league. I anticipate it’s the players that absolutely do it. They’re the ones alive out, they the one playing. Coaches coach, players play. You can go to Kansas and get in the league.”
On recruiting rankings: “That don’t beggarly annihilation … I don’t alike apperceive about it. I don’t. You’re activity to deathwatch up the abutting day in academy and you’re not activity to be nothing. Literally, nothing. You accept to alpha over again. It’s aloof article to draw added absorption to this stuff.”
On decree anesthetic and its abeyant ancillary furnishings (a adventure from the pharmacy, via his mom): “What the fu** you aggravating to accord me article that could get me absorbed for? …. No, for real, they aggravating to get me addicted!”
That aftermost case, which happened afresh afterwards a tooth procedure, came aback Najee heard the pharmacist say one of the ancillary furnishings could be addiction. So Najee, in alone the way he can, banned the medicine.
“He looks like he’s about 25 and sometimes acts like he’s 13 or 14,” Lucido said. “But there are times we accept those complete conversations. Aback he wants to apperceive something, or he’s interested, he’s actual mature.”
Uncle Jamal acclimated to sit about the active allowance with Najee and his ancestors and acquaint them, “I don’t apperceive which of you guys is activity to accomplish it, but one of you guys will.”
Najee, with this latest move to Alabama, has done aloof that. He’s not the alone one. One of Najee’s sisters has her dream job at Macy’s, his brother is a inferior academy basketball player, addition brother owns a burrito boutique and one of his brothers is an advancing Bay Breadth rapper.
“It was like a annual aggravating to abound through concrete,” Jamal said. “But he blossomed.”
Tianna will move to Alabama with Najee. She wants to be abutting to her babyish boy as he plays his amateur at Bryant-Denny Stadium. To Najee, a scholarship at one academy football’s arch programs is aloof addition move.
“Mom, this is what you accomplished me for all my life,” Najee told Tianna afore leaving. “To be absolute and handle my own business and that’s what I’m accessible to do.”
It’s why he works out three times a day during the season. It’s why he played his chief year with a partially broken meniscus. It’s why, alike afterwards 7,948 yards hasty in aerial academy and every accolade possible, he still says of himself: “I’m not acceptable at active back.”
It’s why, at the Army Basin in San Antonio, he asked his abhorrent coordinator for the playbook at 10 p.m. on the night he accustomed in the burghal (late because he absent his plane) and backward up until 2 a.m. belief it for a bold that doesn’t alike matter.
It’s why that little kid who aggregate a barebones Christmas with strangers plays video amateur with accouchement from the block. It’s why he checks in account on a aerial academy acquaintance who advised suicide.
Najee, the fast-talking, linebacker-evading, curse-word spewing enigma, is aggregate his 18 years accept shaped him to be.
“I don’t attending back,” Najee said. “I aloof accumulate going.”
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