Dec. 16, 2009
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -
By John Denton
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As UCF's busses snaked their way through downtown St. Petersburg, Brynn Harvey shifted out of his usual role as the Knights' standout tailback and into that of a tour guide.
A native of nearby Largo, where he became Pinellas County's single-season rushing champion in 2007, Harvey might be the happiest UCF player that the Knights are playing in Saturday's St. Petersburg Bowl presented by Beef `O' Brady's.
After all, the trip to Florida's Bay Area has been like a stroll down memory lane for UCF's starting tailback.
``Riding on the busses I was showing everybody where I played Little League and where I grew up,'' said Harvey, flashing a big grin. ``And where we practiced, Gibbs High School, that's where I played my last game at in high school. It feels good being back here, like a home game for me.''
UCF (8-4) should have a decided home field advantage against Rutgers (8-4) what with as many as 20,000 Knights fans expected to cram inside the 28,000-seat Tropicana Field. Many of those fans will be Harvey backers from his nearby neighborhood, something that gives him a little bit of pep heading into his first bowl game.
``It means a lot to be back here playing,'' said Harvey, who has already given out his allotment of six tickets and is seeking more for his friends and family. ``A lot of my friends who couldn't make it to UCF are coming to this game to support me. It feels good that people are still following me from Little League to middle school and high school. It feels great all of the support that I still have.''
Harvey, a true sophomore, gave UCF's run game plenty of support this season by running for 1,077 yards and 14 touchdowns. He closed the season with three straight 100-yard games and had one of his best efforts (139 yards and three touchdowns) in UCF's defeat of Houston.
UCF coach George O'Leary
half-jokingly said that Harvey's production picked up once freshman Jonathan Davis
cracked the rotation and started getting carries. But Davis' emergence actually helped Harvey, who carried the ball 31, 25 and 41 times early in the season, and was much stronger down the stretch.
``I think Brynn improved greatly as Jonathan Davis got better,'' O'Leary said. ``I always believe that you need competition at the positions and when Jonathan started running well, Brynn started playing a lot better. They're both getting enough touches. We were playing Brynn too much early in the season. He's just not that kind of back right now as a sophomore. He's getting his 20-to-25 carries and it's a good mix between the two of them.''
Much was made of Harvey's workload, but he shrugged it off as no big deal considering how many times he lugged the ball in high school at Largo for coach Rick Rodriguez. As a senior, he earned all-star honors by running for 2,567 yards and 31 scores.
That work, he said, should have been proof enough that he could withstand whatever workload UCF gave him despite his somewhat smallish 6-foot-1, 205-pound frame.
``My high school coach would give me the ball an average of 40 times a game, so it really wasn't a big deal to me to carry the ball a lot (at UCF),'' he said. ``Coach O'Leary said early in the year that he didn't know if I could carry it a lot this season, and I guess I had a point to prove. I guess I proved it.''
Harvey proved a lot to a lot of people when he arrived on campus in the summer of 2008 as the fourth-string tailback. He admitted that that was a humbling experience, but one he rectified by adding strength in the weight room and improving at knowing when to cut and when not to.
``I had never been that low on the depth chart before in my life, so that was a motivating thing for me,'' Harvey said. ``I just talked to my grandmother every night and she just told me to keep working hard and God would put everything in my hands. Sure enough, everything fell into place.''
What he hopes falls in place now is UCF's first-ever bowl victory. If UCF can beat Rutgers, Harvey will likely have to have a big game against a Scarlett Knights' defense that ranks 20th in the nation against the run. For Harvey, playing back close to home can't get here fast enough.
``We can't wait to play because we're so ready,'' he said. ``It feels like we've been practicing a whole month. We're just ready to get out there on the field and play.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.