Game night for UCF was still a couple of days away, but junior tailback Brynn Harvey was already anticipating the moment that will undoubtedly come Saturday night when he realizes the rugged path he’s had to take to get back on the field.
Forgive Harvey if he needs a second to catch his breath or dab his eyes when the magnitude of the moment hits him like a ton of bricks.
A preseason all-conference pick heading into last season, Harvey had to miss all of last year because of a shredded ligament in his left knee. He held out hope of a late-season return and worked feverishly – as in doubling up on rehab sessions and returning to contact work well ahead of schedule – all to no avail when other players emerged as solid threats at Harvey’s former tailback position.
Saturday night’s season opener at Bright House Networks Stadium against Charleston Southern will allow Harvey to play in a game for the first time since the St. Pete Bowl on Dec. 19, 2009. He knows that at some point when he’s in the game and carrying the ball for the Knights that it will sink in to him how hard he’s worked to return to the game he loves.
“It will be a wonderful feeling knowing that I’m back on the field, all of the hard work that I did and the struggles and obstacles that I overcame,” Harvey said. “It’ll be a wonderful feeling being back.”
Senior Ronnie Weaver is expected to start at tailback after winning the hotly contested battle between he, Harvey and Latavius Murray. With Harvey out injured, Weaver grabbed control of the starting job last year in midseason and ran for 890 yards and 11 touchdowns. Murray surged into the starting role late in the year and was the MVP of the Conference USA title game and the Liberty Bowl defeat of Georgia.
Harvey is expected to be the first back off the bench for the Knights because of his stellar running in training camp, proving that he’s fully rebounded from the knee injury. UCF coach George O’Leary praised Harvey throughout camp for his tough running and he is a favorite of the coach’s because of his vision in holes.
“He’s looked the best of the backs a lot of times,” O’Leary said recently of Harvey following a scrimmage. “Brynn started showing some things. I just like the way he makes his cuts in the hole and not before the hole so the linebacker can scrape over and make the play.”
Part of what made Harvey’s injury so difficult for him to handle is that he’s never really known not being a dominant part of the UCF offense since arriving on campus. He won the starting job as a freshman, led the team in almost every rushing category and was named to the C-USA All-Freshman squad. And in 2009, he flourished as a workhorse back, running for 1,109 yards and 14 TDs. He set career highs against Memphis in 2009 by carrying the ball 42 times for 219 yards and a score.
But Harvey’s enormous promise came crashing down the following spring when he ran a sweep around the right end and had his knee collapse as he planted his foot.
Hoping to return ahead of projections, Harvey attended rehabilitation sessions in the morning and the night. He rarely missed a practice, watching from the sidelines with his helmet on.
But by the time Harvey was ready to return, Weaver and Murray were thriving and the decision was made to redshirt him. Clearly, the football world stops for no one, especially for anyone injured.
“It was difficult trying your hardest to get back. Seeing your best friends out there every day having fun and knowing you can’t be out there with them, it was a tough feeling,” Harvey said. “But they did their best and came out with a conference championship and a bowl victory, so it wasn’t that hard after that.”
Harvey got over any mental hurdles he might have had with his knee this past spring when he rumbled for 44 yards on the first play of the Black and Gold Scrimmage. And over the summer, he actually saw the strength in his knee improve to the point that he’s now squatting more (580 pounds) than he did before the injury (560 pounds).
“In camp I just wanted to come in and try to compete. My leg felt good and I’m just trying to get back into the flow of plays,” he said. “I feel way stronger now. My squats got stronger and I feel better. I feel probably better than I was before.”
Harvey said he might not even make it to the game before the moment hits him where he realizes how hard he’s worked to get back on the field. He admitted that the rumbling of the students section over the Knights locker room will likely give him chills and running onto the field for the first time in 18 months will be a blissful blur to him.
“I think it will feel like my freshman year all over again with all of the butterflies that I’m going to have,” Harvey said. “It’s like I’m starting all over, but I’m excited about getting back in there with my teammates. I think it will be fun.”