South Carolina football: Bruising freshman RB Kevin Harris gives Gamecocks' running game a finisher
On the surface, Kevin Harris might not look like a blue chip running back. After all, he was a 3-star prospect coming out of Hinesville, Ga., and the No. 68 player in his home state in the 2019 class. But if Harris keeps running like he did during South Carolina’s spring game, the Gamecocks will have some added muscle and toughness in the backfield.
Harris, who scored a 3-yard rushing TD in the Garnet and Black spring game, was the Gamecocks’ only running back in this past recruiting class. He reportedly stood out to South Carolina coaches at a Will Muschamp camp when he ran a 4.55 40-yard dash. But particularly during the spring game, his 5-foot-10, 230-pound frame rumbling through the defense clearly set him apart.
Kevin Harris hasn't shown the 4.5 speed today, but has been South Carolina's best RB. Runs a little upright, but has routinely made the first guy miss and is averaging 5 or so YPC.
— Brad Crawford (@BCrawford247) April 6, 2019
After the spring game, Muschamp explained what makes Harris effective, and how he could be the answer to deficiencies in the backfield since Muschamp has led the program. It’s thought that Harris could be a complementary piece to a group of running backs that include Rico Dowdle and Mon Denson. South Carolina has had several possible feature backs under Muschamp, but has dealt with a revolving door of contributors.
South Carolina has had four leading rushers in the past five seasons, and hasn’t had the same leading rusher in two consecutive seasons since Mike Davis in 2013-14, which was also the last time (2013) the program had a 1,000-yard rusher.
Can Harris and his bruising style eventually change that?
“He runs behind his pads,” Muschamp said of Harris. “There’s nothing soft to hit. He runs through contact well. … We’ll continue to find the best guy that’s going to go out and give us an opportunity, got to create some runs as far as making a guy miss and running through contact. That’s something we haven’t done consistently well in our three years and we’ve got to continue to search for that.”
With Dowdle limited with a groin injury, and A.J. Turner splitting time on defense, Harris had plenty of opportunity this spring to show what he can do. Along with Dowdle and Denson, other youngsters or newcomers in the mix of the backfield for the regular season are Deshaun Fenwick and Lavonte Valentine. It’s a position ripe for improvement as South Carolina was 12th in the SEC last season with 152.7 rushing yards per game.
When Harris signed with South Carolina, and enrolled in January, new running backs coach Thomas Brown explained that his measurables on paper may not be his most value asset.
“He’s just tough. I think it’s a really underrated trait,” Brown told The State/Island Packet. “A lot of guys kind of put a high premium on how fast a guy runs a 40. I think that’s probably one of the most overrated stats about running backs. I care more about can you break tackles? Can you make guys miss in a short-area space, and can you just be tough from a mental and physical standpoint. He definitely has it in my opinion.”
FR RB @kevoharris1: “get off me child’s play!”
— The Spurs Up Show (@TheSpursUpShow) March 5, 2019
By enrolling early, Harris got a jump on adjusting to the college game, even after he had just 10 offers coming out of high school, and chose South Carolina over the likes of Air Force, Army, Cornell, Furman and Middle Tennessee State.
Muschamp on Signing Day in December explained how the coaching staff envisioned Harris contributing with his big body.
“Kevin really came and earned his scholarship at camp,” Muschamp said. “We really liked his film. We weren’t totally certain about his top end speed. He came into camp and ran 4.55 in the 40 and vertical jumped 34 inches, which is really good. He has a really big lower body and is a difficult guy to tackle, when you talk in terms of a power running game and getting better there and adding some toughness to that position.”
Harris as a high school senior had 1,696 all-purpose yards and 24 touchdowns, including rushing for 1,556 yards and 22 touchdowns, with 8 100-yard games as a senior. He was the No. 6 rusher across all classifications in Georgia in 2018.
It didn’t take his new teammates long to notice that he was a bit different.
“Strong,” sophomore corner Jaycee Horn told The State. “Since he came in, before he got on the field. We call him Jerome Bettis, the big bus. His legs are big. You look at him, his arms are big. In camp, he’s been running the ball real hard.”
The Gamecocks hope that continues this fall … and several after.