Five games into his career, Georgia Tech punter Pressley Harvin has demonstrated that he’s equal to the advance billing.
On a sloppy field with footing that grew increasingly worse, Harvin played the best game of his young career, repeatedly pinning the Hurricanes to set up the Yellow Jackets’ defense. Had Tech prevailed, Harvin’s role would have been hailed as pivotal in the upset.
“The punter was spectacular,” coach Paul Johnson said Monday. “I mean, he flipped the field.”
Harvin had six punts, taken in a variety of circumstances, and hit good balls on each. He averaged 45.3 yards per punt and Tech netted 39.3 yards, a number that would have been much better had Miami returner Braxton Berrios not escaped coverage on his first punt for a 34-yard return.
“I feel like I’m doing decent,” said Harvin, whose team plays Wake Forest at home Saturday night. “There’s always room for improvement. I always want to help the team out as much as I can.”
Harvin was the first commitment of Tech’s 2017 class, and a notable one. From Alcolu, S.C., Harvin arguably was the best punter in his class. In the summer after his freshman year, he became the first non-senior punter to win the prestigious Kohl’s Kicking Camp competition and the next summer became the first player to win the punting competition more than once.
At 6-foot and 240 pounds, Harvin is built more like a linebacker (Johnson nicknamed him “Chunky” for his slight belly) and brings power to his soaring kicks. He has brought consistency to a position that has not had it in recent seasons.
Harvin ranks 15th nationally and second in the ACC in punting at 44.95 yards per punt. Beyond that, he has been impressive with the consistency and accuracy of his punts. Of his 19 punts, he has dropped eight inside the 20, but none have reached the end zone for a touchback. He and Miami’s Zach Feagles are the only two starting punters in the ACC with no touchbacks.
“It’s been a great help,” defensive end Anree Saint-Amour said. “Whenever you get the ball starting at the 10 or at the 20 on their side, that’s a great thing.”
Against Miami, his second, fourth and sixth punts showed his skill. The second was midway through the second quarter, with Tech on its 42-yard line. With no Miami rush, Harvin took several steps and crushed a rugby-style punt that stayed in the air for about 4.8 seconds, a rainmaker. Surrounded by five Tech players, Berrios fair caught at the Miami 10, a 48-yard punt.
His fourth was attempted with the field and ball slick from the heavy rains. With the line of scrimmage at the Tech 19, Miami was primed to start out close to midfield. Harvin leaped to bring down a high snap, shuffled right to take a rugby punt and then drilled a punt that chased Berrios backward and landed on the Miami 33 – between the field numbers and the sideline, no less, to trap Berrios against the sideline. Berrios backed off, and the ball rolled dead at the Miami 19, a field-flipping 62-yard punt.
He dialed-down for his final punt, with Tech at the Miami 41 and less than three minutes to play. Taking a standard punt, Harvin popped up the ball and landed it on the 8, where Berrios again fair caught the ball with Tech coverage surrounding him.
“I was nervous at first (against Miami),” Harvin said. “When it first started raining, I was like, ‘This is a lot of rain.’ I just tried to stay motivated with it, just tried not to think about the negatives, tried to make everything positive.”
Harvin said the goal for the punting unit is to have a net average (punting yards minus return and touchback yards) of 38 yards. Tech’s average is 37.63 yards, 70th in FBS. The 80-yard punt return for a touchdown by Pitt’s Quadree Henderson, on a punt that Harvin appropriately placed between the numbers and the sideline before Henderson broke two tackles and outraced the Tech coverage team, factors heavily. Without it, Tech’s net is 42 yards, which would be 14th nationally.
Harvin has incorporated the rugby punt despite never having worked on it until this summer. It has proved an effective tool as he can kick well in that style and also give the coverage team extra time to get downfield.
There’s plenty of season remaining, but he is on track for the best season for a Tech punter since Durant Brooks, who won the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s best punter in 2007. Given Tech’s low-possession games, Johnson’s willingness to go for it on fourth down, Harvin has averaged only 3.8 punts per game, tied for 96th nationally. He is very much a specialist, a player called upon infrequently, but capable of influencing the game nonetheless.
“Right now, I feel real comfortable with the position I’m in,” Harvin said. “I feel like I’m getting better every week, every game.”