March 23, 2011

Fresh start for Harmon

Junior A.J. Harmon has heard the whispers.

One of the state's top prospects when he signed with Georgia in February of 2008, the former defensive lineman turned offensive tackle was expected to make a huge impact with the Bulldogs.

His high school resume was certainly impressive. Rivals.com rated Harmon the country's 54th-best overall player, while USA-Today tabbed the former Jefferson County star a Parade All-American.

Following a heated recruiting battle with Clemson, Harmon decided to become a Bulldog, but for a variety of different reasons enters spring practice still trying to find his niche after appearing in just seven career games.

With early expectations being what they were, a number of Bulldog fans on message boards and blogs have wondered aloud if Harmon wasn't over-rated to begin with. Some have even used the word "bust" to describe the 6-foot-5, 345-pounder, claiming he'll never make an impact with Mark Richt's squad.

Harmon politely disagrees.

"I feel real uplifted now, just having a chance to play ball through all the bull with the blogs, people talking I'm a bust, asking where I've been at," Harmon said. "I'm using all that fuel for the fire."

Harmon admits it pains him knowing some fans might feel that way.

"It does hurt. I can't lie about it. It gets me when I go back in the weight room, I go back to work. I'm glad they feel that way about me; I'm glad I've got the spring and summer to get better," Harmon said. "They (his detractors) don't know what I've been doing here. They don't know about my struggles, they don't know why I haven't been playing, why I've been in the situation I've been in. I do know this much, when the time comes and the coaches call me - especially this coach (offensive line coach Will Friend) - when he calls on me, I know I'm going to be ready."

Harmon said he's already taken care of the academic issues that resulted in him being ruled ineligible for last year's AutoZone Liberty Bowl against Central Florida.

Assuming there are no further setbacks, Harmon said he will be on the field when the Bulldogs take on Boise State in the season-opener at the Georgia Dome as a backup for Trinton Sturdivant at left tackle.

"Sometimes you've got to wait your turn. Sometimes you've got to go harder. Me, I was behind Trinton and Clint Boling and those guys are not sorry," Harmon said. "I'm kind of glad I got to sit behind them and learn from some great athletes."

Getting a fresh start with Friend as his new offensive line coach also has Harmon in a better frame of mind.

The two have already struck a bond.

"Coach Friend, he's awesome. He everything you want in a coach. He's a teacher. I'm not saying anything about Coach (Stacy) Searels, but he has more patience and I can deal with that. He understands it may take me a little bit to catch onto something, but once I do, I'll get the job done," Harmon said. "I appreciate that for him to have the confidence in me. He believes in me. He's not making me do something that I don't feel comfortable with. He's telling me to do this better but he's not getting out of line, he's not fussing at me. I'm not soft-hearted, but I frustrate myself because I want to do it the correct way. With him here supporting me, I can perform a whole lot better.
"People may not believe I can perform, but I can. I can go as high as I want to go."

As long as he continues to focus, Richt sees no reason why Harmon can't do just that.

But Richt also acknowledges it's going to take some work.

"He's very athletic. He can do it, he's just got to focus and he's got to compete. He's got to keep grinding," Richt said. "Sometimes guys get an opportunity year one or year two, sometimes they don't get to play until their fourth or fifth year. Even if he's a fifth-year starter, that will be great for him and great for Georgia. He can do it; he's just got to keep grinding."

Harmon credits strength and conditioning coach Joe Tereshinski for adding an extra spark of motivation.

At the end of last season, Harmon weighed "only" 320 pounds before adding 25 to his 6-5 frame during the team's winter conditioning drills.

"Coach T, I love him to death. He's an animal. He's a tough joker and he doesn't care, but I kind of think that's what we really needed," Harmon said. "It wakes you up. People have forgotten about Georgia. When they hear the name Georgia, they don't fear us no more. It's a good thing for us, because when we step out there in the fall, they're going to see that Georgia's back."

Harmon hopes the same will be said about him.

"It's been a long time, man," he said. "I got my feet wet a little bit last season, but now I'm ready to go swimming in the big ocean."


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