Rose Bowl foes Ian Book and Najee Harris were once teammates


Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book and Alabama running back Najee Harris will battle on New Year’s Day for a spot in the national championship game. Nevertheless, it wasn’t long ago that they teamed up to win titles.

As high school stars, the Northern California natives spent two years playing together on the TMP Elite 7-on-7 team.

“The plan was if we were ever down, you just throw it up and Najee would go catch it,” Book said ahead of the Rose Bowl, which will be played in Arlington, Texas. “That’s how we were able to win some games. He was by far the best player I played with at that time, and he is still one of them. He’s an unbelievable player and a really good person. I’m happy for him. He’ll be playing a lot of football in the future as well.”

Harris was the No. 1 recruit in the nation. Book was an overlooked, three-star quarterback who committed to Washington State before becoming the winningest quarterback in Notre Dame history.

“Ian’s my guy. He’s been doing an amazing job,” Harris said. “The way he dissects defenses and how he throws the balls in tight pockets and stuff like that, he does a good job at it. Even now, he does an amazing job of getting the ball to his playmakers and really being a leader, a vocal point of his offense.

“Just back in seven-on-seven, when we played, it was fun to play with him. Really just an honor.”

Clark Lea has accepted one of the most difficult jobs in the country, taking over as head coach at Vanderbilt. First, the 38-year-old will face his greatest challenge as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator, going against an Alabama offense averaging nearly 50 points per game.

“My singular focus has been on preparation for this game. And I know that may be hard to believe, but this is too big. This is a culmination of four years of investment for me.” said Lea, who joined the Fighting Irish in 2017 as linebackers coach.

“And it’s not just about me, obviously. It’s four years of investment with these players. … [It has] not been an issue and won’t be an issue. Obviously, with an opponent like Alabama, every bit of mental and emotional energy has to got to be put into this game plan.”

Under Nick Saban, Alabama always compiles one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. Senior All-American Alex Leatherwood believes his 2017 class — including Harris, Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and Jedrick Wills — is unlike any college football has ever seen.

“I feel like we’re the greatest of all time, if you ask me,” the tackle said. “We had a lot of talent. But aside from us all being talented, things like that, we’re all hard workers. And we all had a common goal in mind and that was to win a national championship and be the best players that we could be and that’s why we came here.”

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