UCF’s Brynn Harvey is back running with conviction, with a lowered shoulder and shifty feet, his legs pumping with fury in the same manner that helped him become a record-setting running back at Largo High School.
Harvey, though, is not intent on just running past defenders. He also is racing against the clock as he tries to salvage a once-promising career derailed by a devastating injury. On Friday, he gets his final shot in front of family and friends when the Knights face Ball State in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl at Tropicana Field.
“It’s nice feeling to come back home and finish my senior season in the area where I grew up,” Harvey said.
At Largo, Harvey was a versatile runner who could plow inside the tackles or dart outside the end because of his blend of size and speed. The 6-foot-1, 209-pound back was a two-time Pinellas County offensive player of the year and rushed for a county-record 2,567 yards and 31 touchdowns in his senior season (2007).
But the big-time college offers never came. It wasn’t until late in the signing period that Harvey decided on UCF. One of the schools he turned down was Ball State.
“We’ve had a lot of good backs come through here,” Largo coach Rick Rodriguez said. “Brynn was right up there with Dexter McCluster. But they’re different types of backs. Dexter was elusive. Brynn was more of powerful, downhill runner. Brynn was durable, too. I still remember him setting a state record for carries (52) in a playoff game.”
Harvey’s college career also started strong. As a sophomore in 2009, he rushed for more than 1,109 yards and 14 touchdowns, was all-conference honorable mention and quickly became the cornerstone of UCF’s offense.
But in the spring of 2010, Harvey tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. He missed the entire season, and the long scar on his knee — about 5 inches long — traced a tortuous path from budding star to afterthought.
After going through the grueling stages of rehabilitation, he had to regain his starting job in a crowded Knights backfield. Harvey led UCF in rushing last season with 574 yards as a redshirt junior while sharing carries with Latavious Murray and Ronnie Weaver.
Still, he didn’t feel right.
“For some reason I wasn’t back to where I wanted to be,” Harvey said. “I didn’t feel like I was at the same stage as I was before. A lot of that had to do with being mentally ready to go through the rehab and get back to where I needed to be.”
The first task for Harvey was not just to make the spin move out of the arms of a tackler. He had to forget about which knee was injured, not grimacing at the thought of that knee being hit.
“That was one of the toughest things, to not worry about how is the knee is going to be whenever you make a cut or get hit,” Harvey said. “I think for a while I was hesitant, but I don’t feel that as much anymore. I think I’m more strong mentally now.”
This season, Harvey watched the bulk of the carries go elsewhere. Still, he has rushed for 242 yards, the highlight coming against Florida International in September when he had a season-high 73 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
“Brynn is someone who has worked extremely hard to get back on the field and be productive for us,” UCF coach George O’Leary said. “A lot of people forget that he was an all-conference back before. I hope he has an all-conference performance in this game.”
Harvey said most of his family will be in attendance, including his younger brother, Raheem, a junior wide receiver at Largo.
“I tried to watch Largo play whenever I could,” Harvey said. “I’m glad a lot of people from the school will be there for me this week.”
Harvey said he will start preparing for the combine after the game in hopes of making the NFL.
“I’ve really been trying to work hard all season,” Harvey said. “It hasn’t really been about the numbers as much as trying to produce whatever way I can to help the team. And now, it’s going to be working just as hard to try and get a shot in the NFL.”
Beef 'O’ Brady’s Bowl
UCF (9-4) vs. Ball State (9-3), 7:30 Friday, Tropicana Field
Bob Putnam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at BobbyHomeTeam.