- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2005

VIRGINIA BEACH — Prep football phenom Percy Harvin stands alone.

Moments after giving his team a 14-0 lead on a short touchdown reception, Harvin is the safety on a kickoff coverage unit that has left him on the lonely end of a 6-on-1 bust. As five blockers converge on him with thoughts of mass malice, Harvin must realize the relative unimportance of the moment.

After all, it’s only the first quarter of Landstown High School’s expected rout of forgettable district opponent First Colonial. For the first time all season, there are no coaches of note in attendance — no Pete Carroll or Bobby Bowden to disappoint. And the 6-foot-1, 188-pound Harvin has earned his ranking as the nation’s No.1 prep player primarily because of his abilities as an offensive gamebreaker, not because he’s a defensive stopper. There’s no chance of anyone holding Harvin accountable for the return.

And there’s also no chance he’s going to let anyone steal his spotlight.

In an almost cartoonish moment, he engages the player at the head of the wedge just long enough to brace him by the shoulder pads and send him cartwheeling into two of his teammates. With the crowd of more than 8,000 at the Virginia Sportsplex still “oohing” over that display of force, Harvin slashes behind the other two blockers into the gap he has created and executes a flawless diving double-leg wrap and takedown of the hapless return man.

It’s one of those moments that makes people question both their eyes and the laws of physics — the kind of moment that spawned “SportsCenter.” In recruiting parlance, it’s a “drooler,” a moment in which awe temporarily overwhelms the ability to perform standard bodily functions — such as swallowing, breathing or blinking.

In Harvin’s case, such plays are so routine for the wideout/return specialist/cornerback that Landstown’s game programs ought to come with a bib.

“He’s like an artist in the open field,” high school recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said earlier this season. “He’s like watching Baryshnikov.”

• • •

The Tidewater area has produced more than its share of athletic prodigies over the years. From Lawrence Taylor and Allen Iverson to Ronald Curry and the Vicks (Michael and Marcus), the region has produced an inordinate number of freakishly talented stars. But even when viewed through that heady filter, Harvin stands out.

“During 45 years in the local educational system I saw every great high school athlete that came through this area on both sides of the river — D.J. Dozier, Alonzo Mourning, Iverson, Curry, Vick, you name it,” said Wiley French, who retired three years ago after serving as a principal and football coach at four different Virginia Beach high schools (Cox, Green Run, Salem and Kempsville) starting in the mid-1950s. “In my opinion, Percy is the best all-around athlete this area has ever produced.”

Just consider what Harvin accomplished at the state track meet last June, when he became the first Virginia high schooler to win five gold medals (100 meters, 200 meters, long jump, triple jump and 400-meter relay) since 1936. Ask Harvin how much training he did to prepare for that meet, where he ran a 10.69 in the 100, or the strengths of a technique that allowed him to triple jump 47 feet, 7 inches.

“Technique? Well, I just do what comes natural,” said Harvin, who scored 50 of the 52 points that earned Landstown runner-up team honors in Group AAA. “I’m not much into practicing track. I’m really more of a football player.”

Sure, a football player who also led Landstown’s basketball team to the state final last season, scoring 27 points from his point guard slot in a losing effort.

And thanks to Harvin, Landstown’s football team trumped the state silvers scored by hoops and track. In a 47-20 victory over Robinson of Fairfax in the state title game, Harvin authored a statistically stunning performance, rolling up 476 total yards and four touchdowns on offense and adding three interceptions on defense.

“It was a superhuman effort,” Landstown coach Chris Beatty said. “I might as well have handed him the headset, too.”

That performance capped a junior season in which he scored 32 touchdowns and landed at the top of virtually every set of recruiting rankings.

“I just try to put it out of my head,” Harvin said of the ranking. “It’s nice and all, but it’s what you do with that talent that counts. You’ve got to tend to business.”

In spite of the fact teams no longer kick or punt to him, Harvin is doing considerably more than simply punching the pre-college clock this season. The Virginia Beach Breeze has 978 receiving yards on 52 catches as Landstown (7-0) marches toward a state title defense averaging 54 points a game. Most impressively, considering opposing defenses are expressly designed to deny him the ball, Harvin is on pace to better last season’s point production; he has 27 touchdowns on just 88 touches, meaning he scores roughly every third time he gets his hands on the ball.

Perhaps the only thing that can keep Harvin from superstardom is a certain excitability that opponents have preyed upon at every turn this season. Harvin was ejected from a game for fighting last season. And he suffered the same fate in the fourth quarter against First Colonial last week when he touched an official while attempting to explain an altercation.

“That man up and spit in my face after the play,” Harvin said of the ejection, which is under appeal. “Anybody who thinks I have an attitude problem doesn’t know me. But it has been tough this season because crazy stuff has been going on every week. I must be wearing a target because it’s been nonstop. Guys talking smack you expect, but rabbit-punching and scratching and spitting on you in the pile? I won’t miss that nonsense.”

Though he holds offers from virtually every Division I-A school, Harvin has trimmed his list of prospective schools to Florida, Florida State, USC, Miami and Michigan. All five are recruiting him as a slot receiver and planning to showcase his playmaking skills similar to the way Penn State was using last season’s top prep recruit, Derrick Williams of Eleanor Roosevelt High School, before he broke his arm against Michigan.

“He’s taller, faster and more elusive than Williams,” recruiting analyst Jeremy Crabtree said when asked to compare the two. “When you consider the impact Williams had at Penn State, that’s a pretty scary thought.”


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