MIAMI — Percy Harvin walked into Dolphin Stadium, surrounded by bright sunshine and a throng of media. As he headed toward the platform set up especially for him, he paused, turned and took a long look around.
Then he took his seat. The big smile was back. The confidence in his voice had returned.
And he promptly declared that not even the high ankle sprain that has sidelined him since the Nov. 29 Florida State game would keep him out of Thursday night's national championship game between Florida and Oklahoma.
The man teammates affectionately refer to as "Big Game Percy" says he will be ready no matter what.
After all, it's a big game.
"This is what you come to Florida for," Harvin said. "You come to Florida to play in big games and win championships. If you can't get ready to play this game, then you shouldn't be playing football. And this is what I like — stages like this. The lights just seem a little brighter and you just want to play a little harder."
This is the kind of game in which the All-American excels. In the 2006 national championship game, the then-freshman had a career-high nine receptions in the victory over Ohio State. That same season, he was named the MVP of the SEC Championship Game after he rushed for 105 yards and had 62 receiving yards and scored two touchdowns. In 2007, he had a then-career-high 16 carries for 157 yards against FSU. Harvin loves big games.
It's the reason he stayed in Gainesville while his teammates all went home for the Christmas break — to subject himself to extensive rehabilitation for the injury that threatened to sideline him for yet another championship game. He had already missed the SEC Championship Game.
"He wouldn't play," UF coach Urban Meyer said. "If he didn't stay New Year's and Christmas, he wouldn't play. And that tells you what kind of guy he is."
This is what many believe will be Harvin's final game in a Gator uniform. He has submitted his paperwork to the NFL draft advisory committee, but said he won't make a decision until after the championship game. But given the 20-year-old's history of injuries, his return for a senior season seems doubtful,
"I'm not thinking about it at all," Harvin, 5 feet 11, 195 pounds, said. "These last weeks I'm just preparing to play this game and get another national championship. After the game, I'll sit down with my family, all the coaches and make that decision."
Harvin's teammates are thrilled at the prospect of having him back and the Sooners searching for ways to stop him.
"Percy coming back is just going to open up our offense that much more," senior receiver Louis Murphy said. "You can put him at quarterback, you can put him at slot, you can put him at the X, you can put him at the Z. You can put him anywhere on the field and he's going to make plays."
Medically speaking, there's no telling how effective Harvin will be because he has not participated in any contact drills. Oklahoma is preparing as if Harvin will be his old self.
"I think he'll be 100 percent," OU linebacker Travis Lewis said. "It doesn't matter what anybody says, the guy's a player. I know when I've been banged up or guys have been banged up on this team and don't practice for a few days, they come out the next day and tear it up. So I expect him to be 100 percent. We've got to prepare for him that way."
Without Harvin in the SEC Championship Game, the Gators proved they have other players who can step up and help fill the void. But make no mistake, without Harvin, there is a huge void.
"He's just one of the very best players in college football," Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said. "You're talking about a phenomenal football player. For any team at any level, you take that player out, it makes a difference. … We have several home run hitters but you're talking about taking one of the great players in college football out of the lineup. It's nice to see him back in."
Harvin has started 11 games this season and has scored a touchdown in the past 14 games he's played — the longest streak in the nation. He is third in the nation in yards per carry (8.8), second on the team in receiving yards with 595 yards and 16 touchdowns, and is fourth in rushing yards with 538. He is second in all-purpose yards with 1,133.
"What can you say about the guy?" Lewis said. "He's an NFL player. I'd want him on my team, that's for sure."
Harvin said he won't know for sure how strong his ankle is until his first carry. Is there a concern if he's not 100 percent?
"Not at all," he said. "I've played pretty much my whole career at 90. I haven't been healthy until this year. Ninety percent? I'll take that any day."
If it means they get Harvin back on the field, so will the Gators. Especially Thursday night.
"Percy, one thing about him, when he sees those lights come on, he's a big-game player," Meyer said. "He'll be ready."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.