Josh Harvey-Clemons, the almost-Florida Gator

semerson@macon.comOctober 22, 2012 

ATHENS - Georgia freshman Josh Harvey-Clemons puts his head back and laughs when the subject of playing against Florida is brought up. It's not unusual for a player to go up against a school he almost signed with, but his situation is a bit different.

"I wonder what it's gonna be like," he said last week. "As far as the game, and how the fans are gonna react. But I'm really looking forward to it."

A quick reminder: Harvey-Clemons, a highly-rated recruit out of Valdosta, chose Georgia over Florida in a signing day announcement back in February. Or at least he announced for Georgia, but he didn't sign. For 24 hours his status was in limbo, as his grandfather (also his guardian) held out on signing the letter-of-intent. His grandfather reportedly favored ... Florida.

"I really look at it as a learning experience, really, and communicate better with my family, and what I'm thinking ahead of time, and stuff like that," Harvey-Clemons says now. "That's basically about all."

The morning after his announcement, his grandfather signed on, and the LOI arrived in Athens.

The incident led to Mark Richt having to turn himself in for a secondary violation: Initially thinking Harvey-Clemons' letter-of-intent was on the way or already there, Richt commented on him during an ESPNU interview. But the LOI wasn't in yet, and it's against NCAA rules for coaches to comment on unsigned recruits. (Richt ended up just being prohibited from recruiting over the phone for two weeks.)

Now Harvey-Clemons gets to face the team he considered playing for, and which is having a very surprising season: The Gators are unbeaten and ranked third in the AP poll and second in the BCS. And Jacksonville is a couple hours from Valdosta.

Harvey-Clemons said he heard from some Florida fans a couple months ago, but hasn't heard it during the season because he hasn't been very active on Twitter.

"But I'm sure it's coming," he said, laughing.

In some ways, it's been a quiet freshman season for Harvey-Clemons, who is a reserve safety. He has continued to work at both safety spots and the so-called "star position", which is basically a combination of nickel back and outside linebacker. He said he feels like he has the basics "down pat."

"It's just the different gameplans I need to get," he said.

But he has mostly made his impact on special teams, where the majority of his 11 tackles have come. Last week he was also named the team's special teams captain, a rare honor for a true freshman. Like many five-star recruits asked to start out on special teams, he said that at first he was "down" about not playing much on defense.

That's where his grandfather helped pick him up, along with other family members.

"Because in recruiting they come in and tell you you're gonna play, and all that. So I was a little down for a little bit," Harvey-Clemons said. "But they told me: 'You're on special teams, you're out there, you're not redshirting, so just take advantage of that.' Because at first I was like, Man I don't wanna play no special teams. So it's really working out, I've just gotta keep working hard."

Defensively, it's been at practice where he's made the most impact: Playing as a second-teamer against the first-team offense, Harvey-Clemons has impressed the offensive coaches, and he said he made two interceptions during bye week practice.

So when will he actually see a lot of game time on defense?

"I don't really know, to tell you the truth," Harvey-Clemons said, with a laugh. "I guess they just want to be able to depend on me when I get in, to know everything and not be confused. Because when you don't know it you can't really play full speed, because you're guessing."

As for his future, that remains an open question. He signed as an outside linebacker, then moved to safety once he arrived on campus. That was mainly because of his size: While 6-foot-5 is tall for a safety, his 205 pounds are too light for linebacker. The strength coaches, Joe Tereshinski and John Thomas, have been encouraging him to put on weight, and he said he was weighed last week at 216 pounds. (Harvey-Clemons admits he didn't take weight lifting very seriously in high school.)

A lot of people tell him they see similarities between his situation and Alec Ogletree, who played safety as a freshman in 2010, then moved the next spring to inside linebacker.

"I know they have me lifting hard when I do go in the weight room," Harvey-Clemons said. "So I don't know if they're trying to put on weight to go to linebacker, or what."

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