Alabama football: Damien Harris, Buggs announce they’re coming back
TUSCALOOSA — On the same day five juniors departed, Alabama kept two massive pieces to its 2018 team.
Running back Damien Harris, a 1,000-yard rusher in each of his last two seasons, will spurn the NFL draft and return for his senior season. Defensive end Isaiah Buggs will, too, after announcing the decision on Twitter early Thursday morning.
Lauded for his accomplishments both with and without the ball, WalterFootball.com ranked Harris the sixth-best running back in this draft class.
Instead, he’ll return to Tuscaloosa with records in reach.
Harris trails Derrick Henry by 1,397 yards for the program’s all-time rushing title. He averages 6.7 yards on 327 career carries. Among running backs with at least 400 attempts, Bobby Marlow holds the career program record with 6.3 yards a rush.
He is the first Alabama running back since T.J. Yeldon to record back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
With Bo Scarbrough’s departure to the NFL, Harris is primed to see an increase in carries, even given the two young talents — Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs — behind him.
This season, as the centerpiece of a four-man running back rotation, Harris ran for exactly 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 135 carries. He began the season with a 34-yard run on the Crimson Tide’s first offensive play from scrimmage in the season-opener.
Harris had a career-long 75-yard touchdown runs in consecutive weeks against Texas A&M and Arkansas — two of his three 100-yard games. He became the 20th running back in program history to rush for more than 2,000 yards and currently sits 16th among the its all-time leading rushers.
His return is a boon for a Crimson Tide backfield that contains plenty of youth given Scarbrough’s departure.
Najee Harris was the team’s leading rusher in the College Football Playoff Championship Game while Jacobs, who functioned as the team’s “change of pace” back, battled a hamstring injury for most of the season.
More than on-field production, Damien Harris’ presence is a veteran, vocal one among a team losing much of it. Harris is one of the team’s most eloquent players and considered one of the more respected within the locker room.
Buggs, meanwhile, developed as a quarterback-harassing defensive end after a slow start to his first FBS season.
A junior college transfer who was draft-eligible following one season at Alabama, Buggs rotated along the Tide’s defensive line early in the season before ascending to a more prominent role when senior Da’Shawn Hand missed three games with a knee injury.
Starting in Hand’s absence against Texas A&M, Buggs recorded a season-high 10 tackles. He and Raekwon Davis rotated at defensive end once Hand returned. Buggs recorded a sack in the Tide’s 24-6 Sugar Bowl win against Clemson and added a tackle for loss against Georgia in the CFP Championship Game. Buggs finished the season with seven quarterback hurries.
Buggs’ return pairs him and Davis — the team-leader with 8½ sacks — on either side of a defensive line that must find a replacement in the middle after Da’Ron Payne’s defection.
The Tide signed four-star defensive tackle Christian Barmore during the early signing period and also returns Payne’s longtime backup, rising senior Johnny Dwight, who played in six games this season.
“I always dreamed of winning a national championship,” Buggs wrote in a statement posted to his Twitter account. “With that being said, I will return for my senior year to graduate and try to repeat this feeling.”