Doubt, Devastation, and the Dividends of Diligence: Damond Harmon's Journey to Oklahoma
Not much more than a year ago, Damond Harmon was ready to walk away from football.
Today, he’s committed to one of college football’s most fabled programs.
The three-star Highland Springs (Va.) cornerback announced his pledge to Oklahoma on Saturday, choosing the Sooners over Georgia, Penn State, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Harmon’s addition gives Oklahoma thirteen total commitments in the 2021 class. The Sooners had already picked up verbals from highly regarded defensive backs Jordan Mukes and Latrell McCutchin, and can now count Harmon among a growing throng of talented recruits in the secondary. Previously, in the 2020 cycle, Oklahoma signed a quartet of four-star defensive backs in Justin Harrington, Bryson Washington, Kendall Dennis and Joshua Eaton.
Though Harmon had a myriad of prestigious programs chasing his commitment, he told SI Sooners that Oklahoma’s emphasis on academics was ultimately the deciding factor in his mind.
“I need a great academic opportunity,” Harmon said. “Football isn’t going to last my whole life. Once football is over, you’ve got a whole life to live. You need to have a great diploma, a great degree. The football’s going to take care of itself.
“Oklahoma has a three-year plan where in three years, I’ll be done with school without having to early-enroll. I’ll have my diploma at the end of three years. [At] other schools, kids fight to get their classes done while trying to work out for the combine. But at Oklahoma, you’ll be already done, so when the combine comes around, you’ll be straight. Other schools didn’t have that plan.”
Harmon’s decision to attend Oklahoma caps a whirlwind rise to recruiting notoriety. Unlike four-star defensive end Kelvin Gilliam, his teammate and best friend, Harmon didn’t jump off the page as a surefire Power 5 player from day one of high school ball. In fact, at the end of his sophomore year, Harmon didn’t have a single FBS offer to speak of.
The young cornerback stood at a crossroads, unsure of his future in the game. Eventually, he confided to Gilliam that he was ready to give up on his football dream.
“People don’t really know the story, but I’ll always remember it,” said Gilliam, who’s known Harmon since fifth grade. “That’s my brother. If I needed something from him right now, he’d do it. If he needed something from me, I’d do it. That’s the type of relationship we have.
“It was the end of our sophomore year, and we was on our way to a movie one day. It was just me and him, and I had about ten offers [at the time]. He was saying he was ready to quit football.”
Harmon had come to the end of his rope. But Gilliam wouldn’t let his comrade admit defeat.
“I was like, ‘That’s not the move, man. You’re going to be so far removed from that feeling a few years from now,’” Gilliam recalls. “Me and my family sat him down and just talked about how he was going to be one of the best in the nation. And he couldn’t see it. I had a lot of people say that to me, but I don’t think nobody ever said that to him, how great he could be.”
Gilliam’s resolve eventually persuaded Harmon to press on. And it wasn’t long before his perseverance paid off in a huge way.
A month after his sophomore year ended, Michigan offered Harmon. Two weeks later, Virginia Tech and Maryland followed suit. Come the fall, Harmon helped his own case with a fantastic junior season, racking up 38 tackles and snagging six interceptions. By the end of 2019, Ohio State, South Carolina and Pittsburgh had joined the fray.
As the calendar flipped to 2020, the offers kept coming - Michigan State, then West Virginia, then Penn State, then Georgia. Finally, on March 31, Oklahoma entered the fold, extending a scholarship offer of their own.
But on April 27, Harmon’s recruitment hit the back burner, as tragedy marred a triumphant season of life for the fast-rising cover corner. Harmon’s good friend Gabe Henderson, a defensive back at nearby Deep Run High School, died in a boating accident on the icy waters of Lake Anna.
Henderson, a three-sport phenom, had just received his first offers to play college football. He’d led Deep Run to an 11-1 record in 2019, and had drawn the attention of William & Mary, VMI and Norfolk State. His sudden passing left Harmon in shock.
Less than a month later, Harmon took a virtual visit to Oklahoma. When Lincoln Riley greeted him, Harmon noticed that the Sooners’ head coach had eschewed professional attire in favor of a jersey.
“[Gabe] had just passed away, and Coach Riley had a No. 10 jersey on. At the time, I didn’t really understand why he had the jersey on, because I didn’t wear No. 10.”
However, Harmon soon realized the digits weren’t an homage to him.
“He said he knew the number was significant to me. He said, ‘I heard your buddy just passed away, and he wore No. 10. So rest in peace to your buddy, and just know that here at Oklahoma, we’ve got you.’ That’s what really sold me on Oklahoma, that they care about me as a person and not just a football player.”
Harmon’s admiration for Riley grew stronger as the recruitment process rolled on. As Highland Springs’ blossoming phenom fielded calls from coaches all across the nation, he couldn’t shake the lasting impression that Oklahoma’s charismatic leader left.
“He’s just a great guy,” Harmon said of Riley. “We talk about other things than football. Other coaches I talked to, it was strictly football. We talk about school, academics, life, things like that. I like that about him.”
Riley wasn’t the only one who pursued Harmon with vigor. Five-star quarterback prospect Caleb Williams committed to Oklahoma on July 4, but was already recruiting his peers to Norman long before he went public with his own decision.
“Me and Caleb talked a couple months ago, and he had told me that that’s where he was going to go, and he’s just been recruiting me [since] then,” Harmon said. “We haven’t really stopped talking.”
Williams’ reputation among the 2021 class has done wonders for Oklahoma’s recruiting efforts, and will no doubt continue to play a significant role in the decisions for several high-profile prospects, including Gilliam. The heavily recruited defensive end, who also holds an offer from Oklahoma, is set to make his collegiate decision on August 22. He acknowledged that Williams and his family are fully engaged in luring him to Norman.
“With Caleb now, our dads are talking,” Gilliam said. “My dad and Carl Williams [Caleb’s father] are talking. He gave us some insight about OU, things like that. And for his family to reach out to mine is just huge. It’s crazy how our relationship has grown.”
And now that Harmon is OU-bound, it only makes sense that he’ll do everything he can to bring his best friend on board.
“Oh, definitely,” Harmon said with emphasis. “I’m definitely going to tell Kelvin that [Oklahoma] is the way to go. I don’t know what Kelvin’s going to do. I don’t know where his head is at. But I’m definitely going to do my best in recruiting Kelvin.”
With two of his closest friends now committed to the Sooners, Gilliam admitted that he’s giving stronger consideration to joining forces with them.
“It was never a pact or something, [but] seeing my brother going there, it’s an opportunity for us to play together,” he said. “We had so many of the same schools, so of course we’ve talked about that.”
Meanwhile, Harmon has already developed a camaraderie with many of the 2021 Sooner signees, not the least of which is Williams.
“Caleb’s a good guy, a real cool guy,” said Harmon. “I can see myself hanging around him. That’s another thing - everybody that’s committed to Oklahoma, I can see myself being around as a teammate and as a person.
“I really have no worries about where I’m going. I know a lot of the guys going; I talk to them. We’re already becoming a family. When everything opens back up, we’re definitely going to take an official visit together, all the commits. [We’ll] get this chemistry up early so we can come in right away and win big games, win a national championship.”
Harmon says he’s developed a tight bond with fellow cornerback Latrell McCutchin, who committed to Oklahoma last month. McCutchin, an Austin native, spurned advances from Texas in order to join the Longhorns' archenemy across the Red River. Harmon says that in McCutchin, he’s found someone who can match his desire to bring Oklahoma’s defense back to the top.
“Me and Latrell, we’ve been talking a lot,” he remarked. “We’ve been talking since a couple months ago; we both knew a long time ago where we were going to go. We’ve been talking on and off, and we want to come in right away and change the culture of the secondary.
“When [the Sooners] get to the playoff, you go watch ESPN, SportsCenter, all those shows. They all talk about how Oklahoma’s not going to be able to do it because of the secondary. But we want to come in and change that narrative. We want them to say that they can do it because of the revamped secondary.”
As for his fit in Alex Grinch’s Speed D vision, Harmon says that he has no issue playing anywhere he’s needed. Bred as a safety, he didn’t take up cornerback until he arrived at Highland Springs as a ninth-grader.
Harmon’s ability to compete from any position in the secondary only makes him all the more attractive in the eyes of Grinch and Roy Manning.
“They want me to be me, and I fit the scheme very well,” Harmon said. “As of right now, they’re saying I probably fit at cornerback, but they don’t really know yet because of my versatility. But they said when I do get in games, whatever position I do play, just be me and ball out. And we should be great together.”
Regardless of what his own future holds, Gilliam can’t wait to see his teammate and friend compete at the next level. After all, he knows better than anyone that Harmon is more than capable.
“He always had that aggression,” Gilliam raved. “He’s the definition of a true football player, and a true cornerback at his position. Anything you could want out of a DB, he has it. [Oklahoma] is getting a guy that is going to compete all-out.”
Likewise, Caleb Williams sees the chip that Harmon carries on his shoulder. SI All-American’s No. 1 overall recruit has nothing but praise for his future teammate in the crimson and cream.
“He’s very underrated, and that’s awesome to have a guy that believes in himself so much - that underdog mentality,” said Williams. “He’s lanky, fast, and can cover very well.”
As long as Lincoln Riley wears the headset on the Sooner sideline, the offense will continue to thrive. But Harmon is acutely aware that the public perception of defense in Norman - and across the Big 12 - isn’t what it used to be.
He’s out to restore order.
“A big reason I picked Oklahoma was the conference,” Harmon stated. “You know they’re going to throw the football. At Oklahoma, we want to be the group that makes history in the College Football Playoff. We want to change the defensive narrative within the conference and be the ones that take the Big 12 over the top.”
And two decades after Oklahoma’s most recent national title, Sooner Nation certainly wants it too.
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