From many, there will be one. And while there’s still no guarantee contending athletes will win their own state at this point in the season, a number of elite performers are making a case for Gatorade National Football Player of the Year consideration. Here’s the scoop on the latest top candidate.
Senior running back, Madison Southern (Berea, Ky.)
Greatness Present: ESPNU tossed a nationally televised coming out party for the nation’s top-ranked running back recruit on Friday, but the guest of honor was unable to attend.
Damien Harris, ranked as the country’s No. 1 ball carrier by both Rivals.com and ESPN, was the main reason for Madison Southern’s first national TV appearance—a rematch of last year’s Class 5A state quarterfinal loss to Somerset (Ky.) Pulaski County. But a strained MCL kept the 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior from participating.
The Eagles (5-2) entered the broadcast averaging 39.3 points, but were blanked 35-0 without Harris, managing just 87 yards of offense and committing five turnovers. For comparison, Harris rushed for 151 yards and three scores on 20 carries in the 32-28 playoff loss in 2013.
Through six games—including just the first half of a 32-26 loss to Somerset (Ky.) Southwestern earlier this month, when he suffered the injury—the dynamic senior has carried the ball 86 times for 1,420 yards (16.5 yards per carry) and 23 TDs, scoring 64 percent of the Eagles’ points. Harris accounted for 63 percent of this team’s total offensive yards in that span.
The highlight of Harris’ season so far came in a 54-51 win over London (Ky.) South Laurel last month, when he rushed for seven touchdowns and 353 yards on 21 carries. The Madison Southern star is expected to return to the field before the playoffs begin in November.
At least TV audiences were treated to another No. 1 running back recruit over the weekend. Last year’s consensus top-ranked tailback, 2013-14 Gatorade Louisiana Football Player of the Year Leonard Fournette of New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine, turned in the best game of his young college career, rushing for 140 yards and two scores in LSU’s 30-27 win over Florida. In his final prep season, Fournette ran for 1,792 yards and 16 TDs on 194 carries (9.2 yards per carry)—all marks Harris could still surpass despite the injury.
Greatness Past: Harris captured Gatorade Kentucky Football Player of the Year honors as a junior, finishing the season with 2,621 yards and 42 touchdowns on 220 carries (11.9 yards per carry).
Greatness Future: Harris will get his television time next fall on a yet-to-be determined university field. Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Ohio State and Texas A&M are the finalists for his services, though he has visited the home-state Wildcats 11 times since Mark Stoops was named head coach in 2012, including their last three home games.
Make no mistake: The Gatorade State Football Player of the Year races aren’t over, and the National POY race is now heating up. Time remains for one standout student-athlete among thousands to rise to the top of our list. Check back for daily updates on the top contenders making their case.