High praise for Harvin

Bob Redman has followed the Florida Gators since 1985 and worked for the team and in the media covering them. He offers an inside look at Percy Harvin, the Vikings' first-round draft pick and a player he got to know over the years. He writes about his off-the-field incidents, talents, versatility, character, will to win and more.

Percy Harvin will be a great Viking.

That is my "insiders" opinion on the Vikings' newest first-round draft pick. As a guy that has followed the Florida Gators since 1985 as a fan, employee, or in the media, I believe the Vikings have landed the most physically gifted Gator in 25 years. Is he in need of a little polish on and off the field? Yes. But I still would have taken Percy Harvin much higher in the draft. He is that special.

Harvin came to Florida with all the accolades as a high school wide receiver. The only player in Virginia High School history to win five gold medals at a single state championship track meet, Harvin has always been that guy that does what everyone says he cannot do. This comes from on and off the field.

His past has been checkered with some not-so-bright moments. There were the documented public fights in high school with sports officials and other athletes, but we never saw any of that during his growing up as a Florida Gator.

At Florida he had a couple of behind-the-scenes run-ins with teammates, but neither was ever documented as his fault. He was in a locker room fight with an unnamed player in his sophomore year. It was a jealous fight and Harvin was jumped from behind. He got the better of the other player and so he got the worst of the rumor mill.

The second time was at practice with another very competitive teammate, Chris Rainey. He and Rainey were both doing time in the injury rehab section of the practice fields the Gators call "the pit." It was 100 plus degrees outside and both were having to work out while nursing their wounds since neither could practice. The Gators make this part of the regimen especially hard to get players in the mindset to get back on the field as soon as they are physically capable. The two got into it on a hot day and the next day it was over and never heard of again.

Has he always been on the same page with the coaching staff? I would say not. I would say he had a bit of an attitude when he first arrived, but as time passed, that attitude stopped. He balked a few times as a freshman at things he had to do. As it turns out, a lot of it had to do with his documented heel injury that he had since high school and suffered through his first two-plus years on campus. Harvin lived in pretty much constant pain throughout his career at Florida. That problem with the staff and the way they worked him and two altercations with teammates was the extent of Harvin's issues with teammates and coaches in his three years at Florida.

In the beginning, Harvin did not care for school. He probably still doesn't. However, he is on track to graduate and plans on doing so with time in the offseason. He should graduate taking summer courses within a five-year window. Not bad for a guy that is leaving school to play professional football before the end of his third year on campus.

Harvin may not be a saint, but he is hardly the sinner that the media has made him out to be. The fact that Vikings coach Brad Childress learned that Bill Belichick was going to draft Harvin only one spot behind Minnesota should tell you everything you need to know. Urban Meyer and Belichick are very close and there is no way that Meyer would drop a bad egg on his friend. Not to say he doesn't have a great relationship with Childress, but Meyer is really close with the New England coach.

As for Harvin's talent, let me first explain where he came from to get where he ended with the Gators. Harvin arrived on campus in June 2006 weighing 176 pounds. He was built for speed, and the five gold medals in the high school state track championships are proof of this. Even with his constantly ailing heel, Harvin was a performer with the ball in his hands. He left Florida weighing 204 pounds, almost 30 pounds more muscle than when he arrived only 2½ years earlier.

On the field, it was evident from the outset he was special. On a team that is now full of future NFLers and has won two national championships in Harvin's three years on campus, he was the best athlete among them … bar none. The Gators won with or without him, but there is no doubt things were much easier with Harvin having the ball in his hands.

One of the things he brings to the table when he gets the ball is the best first step in possibly all of sports. Harvin can change direction at full speed better than anyone I have ever seen.

He plays with reckless abandon. This has been the downfall with some of his injuries, but Harvin is the best competitor you will ever see and so he never shies away from contact and always believes he can burst through to the other side of a defender on his way to the end zone.

He seems to always be the fastest player on the football field. There is only one game in his career when someone caught him from behind. A worn-out Harvin was tackled from behind against Michigan in the 2008 Capital One Bowl, but never before or after.

Harvin runs by people so quickly, but the amazing thing about his highlights are that the best ones come while in traffic on the field. He just has an awareness and the quickness to get through and around and out the back of every mass of defenders. It is truly uncanny.

Harvin has a tremendous football IQ. Forget the Wonderlic test in which he graded out poorly. When the pads go on, this guy knows what he is doing. As a freshman, he learned all four receiver spots on the field and then learned to play tailback where he was a surprising star. By the time he was a junior, there was little doubt in my mind that if the Gators' two quarterbacks went down with injury, Harvin would have been the signal caller, despite his own injuries.

One last thing about Harvin: He makes his teammates better. Adrian Peterson got better when the Vikings drafted Percy Harvin. As much as he wants the ball, winning is of the utmost importance. To that end, Harvin will be the best blocker for Peterson and the other receivers on his team. The Gators had more long runs this season from their running backs than maybe ever, and it was blocks from Harvin and the other Florida receivers that helped with that average.

I started school at the University of Florida in 1985, when Neal Anderson and John L. Williams roamed the backfield for the Gators at the same time and were the best backfield in college football. I was still in school when the NFL's all time leading rusher, Emmit Smith, came through as a Gator and did his thing. I worked for the Gators when Steve Spurrier and his arsenal of receivers and skill players were making a mockery of defenses in the NCAA. I have been writing for five years now, and in all of the time watching the Florida Gators I have never seen anything like Percy Harvin come through.

For years to come, Gators fans will want to compare future and current Gators to Harvin, and I am afraid none of those comparisons will ever be fair. They will have to deal with watching him in purple and gold. The scariest thing is that Harvin's best games have been on FieldTurf and in domes. The newest Viking is likely to only get better.


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