ANTIOCH, Calif. — On the corner of A St. and Walter Way and across the street from O’Reilly Auto Parts sits Malu Fitness — a place that has helped shape Alabama 5-star running back into the physical specimen and man he is today.
The owner of Malu Fitness is a short, stocky man from Tonga, Marcus Malu, who is one of the main people in Harris’ tiny circle. Malu has trained Harris since the nation’s No. 1 player’s freshman year at Antioch High School — before anyone knew he’d be considered “the next Adrian Peterson.”
Malu’s and Harris’ relationship extends well past the gym that’s covered in green walls for the Seattle Seahawks and littered with pictures of several coaches who have stopped by, such as Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.
Those two schools are battling it out to land Harris, but if Malu had it his way, his prodigy would stick with his commitment. He’s enamored with the way Alabama competes and the team’s strength coach is someone he looks up to.
“Wherever he goes — I hope it’s Alabama — I just want to see him compete,” Malu told SEC Country. “He loves competing against the best. Just watching Alabama, you’re competing against 4- and 5-stars every day. Not only that, Scott Cochran is one of my idols. I love the way he works. Before I met him, I didn’t know he screams the way he does. That’s what I do here.”
Malu met Cochran when he trekked to Alabama during Harris’ sophomore year on the day he committed to the Crimson Tide. Malu hasn’t been to Tuscaloosa since then because he doesn’t like flying, but he keeps up with Alabama’s team on a daily basis.
On the day SEC Country swung by the gym, Malu was sporting an Alabama T-shirt and hat. Why does Malu hope Harris signs with Alabama? It’s the same message he tells the almost 80 kids he trains in the inner city of Antioch — to be the best, you need to surround yourself with the best.
“When you’re working with the best and seeing the best every day, it brings out the competitiveness in you,” Malu said. “You may kill each other Monday through Thursday in practice, but come Saturday, you’ll have a cakewalk.
“I want him to keep his competitive edge, but at the same time, if he goes to Michigan, so be it. If he goes to UCLA, so be it. I just want to see him run behind a solid line and be a running back, rather than just being a playmaker.”
Another advantage Alabama may have on the schools chasing to flip him from his commitment is the fact that the Crimson Tide were one of the first teams to believe in Harris’ abilities. Michigan knew about Harris, but the Wolverines only ramped up their recruiting efforts after Harbaugh became coach.
Alabama outside linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi has known Harris before the U.S. Army All-American was a national recruit. That matters to Harris and his inner circle. For one, Lupoi is from California. He went to De La Salle High School and coached at the University of California before making his way to Alabama. He knows the area Harris is from, and his ability to connect with him on a personal level is big for the Tide.
That isn’t stopping Harris from taking visits elsewhere, but that should not necessarily be a cause for concern.
“He just wants to leave his options open,” Malu said. “He’s just trying to figure out if he’s making the right choice. This is the next big step for him. Depending on where you go, the next step after that may be Sundays or it may just be Saturdays. This isn’t just picking a high school. He’s at the last turn before he gets to the straightaway in a race.”
Malu was in this situation last year when one of his trainees, Michigan freshman tight end Devin Asiasi, was going through the recruiting process. Asiasi chose the Wolverines over the Crimson Tide in what was described as a “really close” battle.
Asiasi wears No. 2 for Michigan, which is the same number Harris reps for the Antioch Panthers.
“I joke with Najee all of the time saying he can’t go to Michigan because Devin already has your number,” Malu said with a laugh.
All rankings are provided by the 247Sports composite unless otherwise noted.
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