Most diehard football fans know that new Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris broke school rushing records at the University of Alabama. They might not know about the life challenges that Harris experienced growing up, and that he hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to try to rise above those challenges.
While many of his fellow first-round prospects were in Cleveland attending the NFL draft, Harris spent much of the day on Thursday at the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program homeless shelter in Richmond, Calif., where he lived for a time when he was a child.
According to KRON Channel 4 San Francisco, Najee, his parents, and his older siblings lived in a small room at the shelter in 2010 while struggling with homelessness. Wanting to give something back to the shelter, he sponsored a draft party for the kids there, providing pizza, cupcakes, football-oriented decorations and goodie bags, among other treats. He also took the time to visit with and take photos with the kids and shelter workers—and also to talk with Kylen Mills of KRON about how emotional it was for he and his mom, Tianna Hicks, to return to the shelter.
Najee Harris Plans to Continue Raising Awareness About Homelessness
Harris, 23, says that homeless is an issue that needs to receive more attention, especially in the Bay Area. He hopes to continue to use his public profile to raise awareness and help combat the problem, even as he begins his professional football career.
On Thursday night, the Steelers made Harris—6-foot-1, 232 pounds—their first-round draft pick, making him the first running back taken in the 2021 NFL draft at No. 24 overall. He finished his college career as the all-time leader at Alabama in terms of career rushing yards (3,843), and his 4,624 all-purpose yards rank second in school history. He also won the Doak Walker Award in 2020, which honors the top running back in college football.
Though he moved as many as ten times while growing up in Northern California, Harris played football for the Antioch High School Panthers (Antioch, Calif.), where he was named the No. 1 high school recruit in the country in 2017 by Rivals. He also won 2016 California High School Player of the Year—competing against the likes of future NFL players like Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Joe Mixon (Cincinnati Bengals)—before moving on to the University of Alabama, where he stayed through his senior season, allowing him to win a (second) national championship and receive his degree.
Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin on Najee Harris
It’s safe to say that the Steelers were thrilled that Harris was still available when their turn came up.
“He has a nice combination of strength, size and athleticism,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin during a post- first-round press conference. “He’s a complete back. He’s very good in the passing game. There aren’t a lot of holes in his overall game. Those are things that made him an attractive selection.”
“We were very excited he was available for us,” added general manager Kevin Colbert, who referred to Harris as a three-down back and said that Steelers scouts had six live looks at him during the 2020 season.
“When we went through our scenarios, it was an easy decision by us,” concluded Colbert.