RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - It doesn’t matter to North Carolina State’s Kelvin Harmon whether he’s wide open downfield or tussling with a defensive back as the ball comes his way.
Just get the ball close, and he’s going to make that catch.
The junior has developed into the unquestioned No. 1 receiver atop a deep position group for the No. 16 Wolfpack entering Saturday’s trip to No. 3 Clemson. He has the size and strength to make tough catches, the quickness to work his way open for a cleaner look and the willingness to battle through - or over - contact for a contested grab.
“It’s just having those physical skillsets and using them and believing I can make a catch even though it might look weird to some people,” Harmon said. “But I just believe if my hands are free, I can make any catch.”
Harmon is coming off the program’s first 1,000-yard receiving season since 2003 and is on pace for another for the Wolfpack (5-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who is off to the program’s best start since going 9-0 behind Philip Rivers in 2002.
Harmon is a tough matchup for any secondary. He’s an NFL prospect with his 6-foot-3, 214-pound frame. He leads the ACC in receiving yards per game (106.8) and has 33 catches for 534 yards with a pair of scores. He had a quiet season opener, but has snagged at least six catches and 94 yards receiving four straight games.
The Tigers (6-0, 3-0) know all about Harmon. In last year’s 38-31 Clemson win in Raleigh, Harmon had eight catches for 155 yards and a 40-yard touchdown.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables compared the connection between Harmon and quarterback Ryan Finley - who flirted with entering the NFL draft before returning for his final season - to that of former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and receiver Mike Williams, who are both playing in the NFL.
“He’s big,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “He’s strong. He’s fast. He’s instinctive. He’s got great hands, understands leverage and understands how to run routes.
“It’s like having Deshaun and Mike Williams and the rest of the guys from just a cohesion standpoint and understanding where we need to be, and if there’s this look, we need to do this. … That’s what you see.”
The Wolfpack’s receivers have been a strength all season beyond Harmon. Jakobi Meyers had 14 catches for 161 yards in the opener. Sophomore receiver Emeka Emezie had a big day against Virginia (90 yards and a touchdown). And graduate student Stephen Louis had the catch that moved the chains and allowed the Wolfpack to kill the clock in the Boston College win.
But Harmon is the one who regularly snags the toughest of grabs, often in critical moments, each week.
“His hand strength, his frame, allows him to have the body position to make some of those plays, too,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. “I think he has two things: he has great timing with Ryan, Ryan knows where to put the ball for him.
“And he has the skill of tracking the football really well, where if it’s a back-shoulder throw, some guys can’t turn and get their hands where their eyes are like he can at the right time.”
It’s certainly earned the trust of Finley, who’s been willing to put the ball up in a tight space to give Harmon a chance to make a play down field.
It keeps paying off, too.
“I feel like there’s definitely more confidence,” Harmon said. “That just comes from the chemistry of the offense … and just having complete trust in my coaches and the players around us. It’s complete trust in the team.”
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