TEMPE, Ariz. — Jalen Harvey holds no ill will toward teammate Salamo Fiso. If the roles had been reversed, Harvey knows exactly what he would have done on that fateful day, two summers ago at Camp Tontozona when Fiso drilled him with a big hit along the sidelines that sent Harvey flying and broke his collarbone, ending his 2015 season.
“He was just being a defensive player so I wouldn’t blame him because I’ve got a defensive mindset, too,” Harvey said Tuesday. “I’d try to take myself out if I was on the other side, too.”
Harvey missed nearly three months before returning to play special teams against Washington State on Nov. 7. On Nov. 14, he played one offensive snap against Washington, and in the season finale against Arizona, he played 13, hauling in his first career reception, a 41-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mike Bercovici.
Sun Devils fans didn’t know it then, but they were watching a guy who would become a bigger part of the offense this season — a guy coach Todd Graham expected to be a bigger part of the offense last season on a receiving corps that was also playing without injured deep threat Cameron Smith.
Harvey showed determination and resolve that impressed the staff during his rehab, and he just kept coming after a job in the offseason.
“He’s a really hungry player,” receivers coach Jay Norvell said. “As coaches, we can only motivate kids to a point. It has to come from within and he’s a guy that plays with an edge, he plays with a chip on his shoulder and this is a game that’s meant to be played that way.
“He played that way all spring and he’s the same way this fall. He always took advantage of his opportunities and was ready to go. When you have a player that’s like that you just give him more and more.”
Harvey is just fifth on the team in receptions with nine for 122 yards, but five of those catches and 83 of those yards came last week in a 51-41 win over Cal in ASU’s Pac-12 opener. As quarterback Manny Wilkins becomes more comfortable with Harvey and vice versa, he should play a larger role, especially because he provides so much else on the field.
“The first thing a receiver has got to do is you’ve got to get open and that competitiveness of his helps him get open,” Norvell said. “He’s really good with his hands as a releaser vs. man coverage; he’s a good technician that way. He knows how to arm over, he knows how to use his hands to get off and then he just works like crazy to get open.
“One of the things I really appreciate about his game, though, is he’s a good blocker; he plays really hard when the ball’s not in his hands. If somebody else is running the ball he’s hustling to get out front to make a big play.”
Harvey threw a key block that sprung Wilkins for an eight-yard touchdown run just before the half against Cal, pulling ASU within a touchdown, 17-10. He also set a tone against Texas San Antonio when he knocked his defender to the ground on the first play of the game.
“That’s just aggressiveness,” he said. “I played defense in high school and I played my heart out and scored TDs on defense. Just having that defensive mentality on offense, I feel like a lot of receivers don’t have that and I feel like it’s a blessing. It’s like God just put that certain dog in me so that when I go out there, the defense be like, ‘dang, he’s playing like he’s on defense when he’s on offense.'”
Last week’s win was especially satisfying for Harvey. A four-star recruit out of El Cerrito High just north of Berkeley, Harvey (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) initially committed to the Golden Bears, but didn’t post a high enough SAT score to earn admission. Now he feels as if his game and life is rounding into shape.
“It’s getting there,” he said. “Most definitely I have a feel. I’m not going to talk about it soon, but at the same time I’m just going to come out and compete every damn day with my team and whoever the opponent is.”
Harvey admits rehab was hard and missing time was harder, but he sports the nasty scar on his left shoulder like a badge of honor.
“I was pissed off that it happened,” he said. “I kept asking myself, ‘why didn’t I just go out of bounds?’ And I was asking God ‘why did this happen?’ It’s not the first injury I’ve been through with football but it was crushing because it was kind of like, I’m finally in college and this was the year where I was trying to get people knowing my name and proving to the team that I could be an impact player.
“At the same time, I just kept my head in it, studied plays while I wasn’t playing and just helped my team out as much as I could while I was on the sidelines. Mentally, it helped, but I just wanted to play and now I’m finally getting a chance to show what I can do.”