Former Antioch High School running back Najee Harris grew accustomed to wearing black and gold as a member of the Panthers football team.
Now, four years later, he'll be wearing those colors again — only this time, it will be for the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
The 2017 Antioch High School graduate was drafted by the professional football franchise as the 24th pick in the NFL draft on April 29.
“I just want to thank the whole Pittsburgh Steelers organization for making this selection and having me here,” said Harris during an introductory news conference last week.
Harris’ rise to the NFL is no surprise to his followers.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound back finished his Antioch High School career as one of the area’s best ever, rushing for 7,948 yards and 94 touchdowns in four seasons. He averaged 9.5 yards a carry and 193.9 yards a game.
He went on to the University of Alabama as one of the nation’s top prospects, and he continued to flourish, finishing his four-year college run as the school’s all-time leader in rushing yards (3,843), total yards (4,624), rushing touchdowns (46) and total touchdowns (57).
“Congratulations to the hardest working man in the world,” said Brett Dudley, Antioch High’s assistant head coach and offensive coordinator. “The Steelers got the best player and person in the draft.”
Steelers brass gave Harris a similarly glowing review during a news conference to introduce their pick.
Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert said the skilled runner possesses a host of desirable attributes, including speed, size and athleticism.
“Najee is as complete a back as we could hope to get at any point in the draft,” Colbert said. “It was very exciting for him to be available for us.”
Harris admitted that he'll need to adjust to the NFL’s superior competition while grasping a litany of game-specific details to succeed at the next level, but clearing obstacles is nothing new for him, he said.
The 23-year-old said he had to overcome childhood homelessness and a host of other unidentified challenges — all while he was forced to bounce around several Bay Area cities, including San Francisco, Oakland, El Sobrante and Richmond.
In the end, however, the experience strengthened him.
“I feel like someone is really not tempered or pressured in a way if he does not go through something hard in life,” he said. “I have been through a lot of stuff in my life, and I have had to overcome a lot of obstacles, but it was for the better and for the good. It helped me a lot in football because in football you are going to go through a lot of adversity. . . . Being able to overcome things helps show you how much strength you have.”
Looking ahead, noted NFL analyst Lance Zierlein said that Harris is a “tough, three-down runner who can immediately upgrade a running game.”
Harris’ official NFL draft profile compares him to 12-year former pro back Steven Jackson, who rushed for 11,438 yards and 69 touchdowns in his career.
Aside from Harris, the Steelers currently have five running backs on their roster — Benny Snell Jr. (368 yards on 111 carries last season), Kalen Ballage (303 yards on 91 carries),Trey Edmunds (140 yards on 31 carries.), Anthony McFarland Jr. (113 yards on 33 carries) and Jaylen Samuels (28 yards on nine carries).
“I’m very grateful to be here and excited, and I can’t wait to start doing things,” Harris said.
Harris’ first professional game is scheduled for Aug. 5 at 5 p.m. against the Dallas Cowboys in the league's annual Hall of Fame game, broadcast nationally on NBC.