Jan. 6, 2007
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) -Percy Harvin is a freshman, a small receiver and prone to injury. So why would No. 2 Florida rely so much on him in the BCS national championship game against top-ranked Ohio State?
Because he's that good.
Harvin is perhaps the most dynamic player in the title game. He's fast, elusive and could be the key to Florida's success against the Buckeyes' stout defense on Monday night.
"Most people aren't blessed with the talent he's blessed with," teammate Andre Caldwell said.
Although Harvin missed one game and was slowed in several more because of a high ankle sprain, he has 406 yards rushing and two touchdowns and 367 yards receiving and two scores. His 773 all-purpose yards are second on the team behind leading receiver Dallas Baker (897 yards).
But Harvin's impact can't be measured by his numbers. You have to look at what he's done for the Gators when he's been fully healthy, which hasn't been often.
He had 91 total yards in the season opener. He followed that with 110 total yards the following week, including an eye-opening 58-yard catch and run for a touchdown.
"He's one of the most explosive players I've ever seen," quarterback Tim Tebow said. "He's unbelievable. He can change the game any time, any point in the game. He's unbelievable. It's good to have him on your team."
It wasn't as much fun for Harvin after the first two games. He touched the ball twice against Tennessee, gaining 25 yards, but sprained his ankle and spent several days in a walking boot.
He spent several weeks getting back to normal.
"When he went down, it changed everything," coach Urban Meyer said.
Harvin played sparingly the next three games, then caught five passes for 66 yards against Auburn. He thought he was back to full speed against Georgia, but tweaked his ankle and played little the following week at Vanderbilt.
"When I got hurt, it set the offense back a little bit," said Harvin, the Southeastern Conference freshman of the year. "I could go north and south at full speed, but I couldn't cut or make the moves (the coaches) had seen me make before."
Harvin finally felt healthy in mid-November, and it showed.
He had 111 total yards against South Carolina, caught three passes for 43 yards in a blowout against Western Carolina and came up big the last two games against Florida State and Arkansas.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound receiver from Virginia Beach, Va., ran four times for 86 yards, including a 41-yard scamper for a touchdown, in the first half against the Seminoles and staked the Gators to a 14-0 lead.
But he left the game on a backboard in the second quarter after his head slammed into a linebacker's knee.
"It wasn't really that serious," Harvin said. "I could have walked off the field. They wanted me to lay there just to make sure everything was all right. As soon as I got in the locker room, I got up and walked around and called (my mom) to let her know everything was all right. I didn't let her panic for too long."
Harvin returned the following week and earned the Most Valuable Player award at the SEC championship game. He ran six times for 105 yards, including a 67-yard TD run. He also caught five passes for 62 yards and a score, a 37-yarder down the sideline that put Florida ahead 17-0.
"He has the X-factor, and that is speed," running backs coach Stan Drayton said. "The kid is flat-out fast. He has tremendous instincts. You don't coach speed. You don't coach instincts. You give him the football and he does all the rest and makes you look good."
Harvin also has changed his image.
Though he excelled in the classroom and was respected in the community, Harvin ran into problems in high school. A star athlete in football, basketball and track at Landstown High, Harvin was suspended three games over his final two football seasons, got into an altercation during the basketball season last year and was suspended from athletics by the Virginia High School League.
His teammates at Florida heard the negative stuff, but quickly dismissed it after spending time with him.
"Once I met him, I saw that he was a competitor and sometimes that can get looked at like he's arrogant or something like that, but that's just his competitive nature coming out," Tebow said. "I love it. I think it makes him a better player. I think that's what makes him."
That and his speed.
"To think he's had the statistics that he's had and he's only played in maybe half our games, that tells you how dynamic a player he is," Meyer said.