Gators can't replace a once-in-a-generation player like Harvin
Percy Harvin's turning pro, and UF can't replace the once-in-a-generation talent
During his three-year career, Harvin averaged better than a first-down per touch
The shy multipurpose threat didn't mind being overshadowed by Tim Tebow
Florida receiver Percy Harvin smiled one November day in 2007 when I asked if he felt slighted because some of his teammates got so much more attention than him despite the fact that Harvin was probably the most dangerous offensive weapon in college football.
"That's me," Harvin said. "I like laying low."
Even after his dominant performance in last week's BCS title game win against Oklahoma, it seems Harvin laid so low at Florida that few outside the Gators' locker room truly appreciated how special a player he was. Now that Harvin has declared for the NFL draft, we'll all have a chance to see just how much he meant to Florida and its national title runs in '06 and '08.
To understand Harvin's brilliance, compare him to former USC tailback Reggie Bush, who was the story in college football in '05. That season, Bush won the Heisman by averaging 9.4 yards every time he caught or carried the ball. For his three-year career, Harvin averaged 11.6 yards a touch. Think about that. On average, Harvin made a first down and change every time he touched the football.
Harvin's absence will change Florida's offense, which brings us to Thursday's other piece of Swamp-related news. With middle linebacker Brandon Spikes returning for his senior season, Florida may not have to score much to compete for a national title. The Gators didn't have a single senior starter on defense this season and they finished fourth in scoring defense (12.9 points a game) and ninth in total defense (285.29 yards a game). Combine that with the baffling lack of head-coaching interest for defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, and Florida will return intact a unit that may be better than the '06 crew that held Ohio State to 82 total yards in the BCS title game.
Harvin won't be around to watch that defense, and that isn't much of a surprise. Given his durability issues, it's probably a safer bet to take first-round money, even if it is mid- to low-first round money. Besides, it's not like he would have been an '09 Heisman candidate, either. With quarterback Tim Tebow on the same sideline, Harvin was bound to get overshadowed. Tebow transcends the game, and that makes him a media darling, but it didn't bother Harvin. "I came to a school where I'm at the same level as everybody else," Harvin said during that same 2007 interview. "I'm not the one that stands out. I can just be me."
To understand Harvin's shyness, you have to understand his history. As a high school star in Virginia Beach, Va., Harvin was the subject of almost constant coverage. He got blasted during his senior football season after an incident in which he bumped an official and swore during a game. Some stories mentioned what started the fracas. Some didn't. But it was an important detail. Harvin bumped the official trying to find the opposing player who had spat on him. Ask yourself this: If someone spat on you, would you worry if a man in a striped shirt stood in your way?
Harvin readily admits some of the incidents that drew so much negative coverage were his fault, but he couldn't understand the constant negativity and personal attacks. He got fed up and he decided not to bother playing the game outside the lines. That decision -- not to mention a series of nagging injuries -- may have cost Harvin consideration for the Heisman, the Maxwell or the Biletnikoff, but it allowed him to focus on what mattered most to him: winning.
It's difficult to predict whether Harvin will be as dynamic as a pro. Bush has not been. On the other hand, former Ohio State star Ted Ginn Jr. -- another versatile receiver/runner -- seems on the verge of stardom. It's easy, however, to predict Harvin's departure will leave a gaping hole in Florida's offense. The Gators have plenty of talent on the roster, but Harvin was a once-in-a-generation player who can't be replaced.