Yahoo! Sports celebrates the return of America's true passion with "Football Nation," a weeklong series featuring this year's most intriguing figures from the preps to the pros.
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – We'll get to the football in a second, but just so you know how good of an athlete Percy Harvin, the nation's best high school football player, really is, consider his abilities at sports he doesn't care that much about.
As a junior he led his Landstown High team to the state basketball title game, where he scored 27 in a losing effort. If he wanted, he would be an ACC-level recruit.
"I just play hoops for [fun] though," Harvin said.
Then, as a junior, he won five gold medals at the state track meet – in the 100-meter dash, 200, long jump, triple jump and as anchor of the 400-meter relay. No one had accomplished that in Virginia since 1936. Landstown won the state track title.
"We scored 52 points. Percy was part of 50 of them," track coach Tom Anderson said. "The other kids got two points."
So he is a potential Olympic-caliber track athlete.
"I really don't like track," Harvin said.
As for football, where do you start with the 6-foot, 188-pound receiver/cornerback/kick returner/highlight reel?
How about starting with the opening kick of the opening game of his junior season? He returned it 90 yards for a touchdown. Then Landstown's defense, featuring Harvin at CB, held, three and out. Then came the punt. Then came another TD.
"Fourteen to zip, 58 seconds into the game," smiled coach Chris Beatty, who was 27-1 the last two years with Harvin on the team.
Or we could skip to last season's state title game, won 47-20 by Landstown, of course. Harvin merely had four touchdowns, three interceptions, 201 yards rushing, 91 yards receiving and 184 yards in returns (including a TD).
"I like the big game," shrugged Harvin.
"I can't imagine anybody being better than him," Beatty said.
All of which is why Percy Harvin's cell phone keeps ringing and on the other end are Pete Carroll, Urban Meyer, Bobby Bowden, Lloyd Carr, Phil Fulmer, Larry Coker … we could go on.
"There have been agents calling already," said Beatty, the coach who has found himself in the midst of this swarm. "Agents calling for a junior in high school."
Harvin is a senior now, well-spoken, confident and intelligent, and even the dumbest of agents knows this kid is as good of a bet as any to be a potential client. Actually, the question isn't who calls anymore, it's who doesn't?
"I go home," said Harvin of the house he shares with his mom, who's a home child-care provider, and older sister, a scholarship track athlete at Eastern Michigan, "and the phone doesn't stop."
The coaches tie up the dang thing so much he barely has time to talk to girls.
The couch in Chris Beatty's office is fairly nondescript. It is comfortable and, like just about everything here at this modern, spacious four-year-old school, fresh and fairly new. But it still is a couch in the football coach's office. It takes a bit of a beating.
Which makes all the more impressive the collection of college football royalty who have planted themselves on it the last few months in an effort to get a word with Beatty, the 31-year-old former wideout (1991-94) at East Tennessee State and his players.
Not only does Landstown feature Harvin, it has Damon McDaniel, a blue-chip wideout in his own right who's considering Oklahoma, Florida, LSU, Miami (Fla.) and Ohio State.
Harvin, meanwhile, seems to favor Southern California and Florida, with Florida State, Miami (Fla.), Tennessee and Michigan still trying.
All of which makes that simple couch Recruiting Central in the United States.
"[USC coach] Pete Carroll is so laid back you can see why he is smiling on the sideline," said Beatty, who has met them all. "He is having fun. [For] some of those coaches it looks like a chore, you can be up 100 points and they would be mad.
"When [Carroll's] talking to you, he knows they are good. He says, If someone is going to beat us they are going to play a heck of a game.' I like to hear that. That is how we are. I like when coaches are confident in what they do. He is a real guy. He is not one of those guys who comes here and tells you what you want to hear.
"Les Miles, you could tell he is sort of a smooth operator. I can tell they are going to have success at LSU because he can really smooth-talk you. He's really good.
"Phil Fulmer is smooth, too. I can see why [Tennessee has] No. 1 recruiting classes. He talks the talk. He is really sharp.
"[Florida coach] Urban Meyer, he comes in and is very [specific]. He says, Hey, we are going to put Percy at the H position, and he is going to do these things. This is what Paris Warren did in the [2005 Fiesta Bowl, and] he had 15 catches. Imagine what Percy can do at that position.' "
Beatty can go on. So can Harvin, although the kid sometimes looks a little besieged by it all. There have been so many coaches, so many recruiting letters, so many text messages, emails and phone calls, so much cooing into his ear that he sometimes forgets who the heck did and said what. Let alone who is who.
Did you meet Michigan coach Lloyd Carr?
"Ah, I'm not sure," Harvin said, before thinking for a second. "Yeah. I didn't really get to sit down and talk to him [for long] though."
You have to figure Carr is glad he made such an impression. But you can't blame the player. The recruiting is endless, mindless, relentless. And the frame of reference is limited. Harvin only started following college football recently.
"I never realized it," Beatty said. "But kids don't know that much about college football. We'll [say], Joe Paterno is coming by.' And they are like, 'They went 5-7.' They don't relate Joe Paterno to being one of the greatest coaches ever. They see that Penn State has not been that successful [recently]."
Plus, some of this stuff is better off forgotten. Since no one knows what will win over a recruit (other than a new convertible), schools try just about anything to stand out. It doesn't seem to work.
"Someone [mailed] a big bull's-eye, and they had my picture in the middle," Harvin said with a shake of his head. "It was like I was the top target or something."
Who sent it?
"Ah, I think Miami. … Oh, and one dude had a calendar [that] had my name on every day. They said they were thinking about me every day."
Who was that from?
"Ah, maybe it might have been Florida."
All of which makes you wonder if any of this stuff works.
"It is real overwhelming," Harvin agreed.
The best high school player in America will make his decision at some point, though. First he wants to lead Landstown to consecutive state championships. It seems plausible. Landstown won its season opener Thursday 64-18, and Harvin had three touchdowns. After that, he will take his recruiting visits, sit down with mom and Coach Beatty and make a decision by February's national signing day.
So what will work with Percy Harvin? What is the secret to landing the next great athlete from a Hampton Roads region that has already produced Allen Iverson, Bruce Smith, Michael Vick, Pernell "Sweetpea" Whitaker, Alonzo Mourning and on and on?
"With me, be honest. Don't come and tell me I am going to start if you have 100 other receivers up there. I know some of the coaches are bluffing anyway. The hardest part is figuring out who is telling the truth.
"What is going to help me with my decision is how I get along with my position coach. I've been getting along real well with coach [Billy] Gonzalez at Florida. He is just outgoing. He is still young so he still knows how we think. He is just cool and relaxed."
(Billy Gonzalez, go ask for a raise.)
"Urban Meyer is the same as Coach Gonzalez. When he came here, he and Coach Gonzalez went for a jog on the track. [They] ran like two miles. [They] showered in [our] locker room. They were like at home."
"At SC, the coach they call T-Mac [Trojan assistant and former NFL player Todd McNeil]. Him and Coach Carroll came down here, and they were really laid back."
Harvin is visiting USC in late October. He, Beatty and Damon McDaniel already went on an "unofficial" visit to Florida, which means they had to pay their own way and UF couldn't bring out all the bells, whistles or sorority girls.
The Florida staff, however, was able to walk everyone out of the tunnel into Ben Griffin Stadium, or "Swamp Stadium," as the Landstown trio calls it.
"Just looking up at those bleachers, there weren't even any people in there and I started getting little chills," Harvin said. "We were standing there and we didn't think anything was going to happen, and then, 'Boom.'"
Up on the Jumbotron, in sync with blaring music and Gator chomping noises, was an impressive highlight video.
"[It was] just like, good night,'" Beatty said. "It gives you goose bumps. I felt like I could have suited up."
And he wasn't the impressionable 17-year-old.
"I almost committed right there," admitted Harvin, meaning Urban Meyer almost did what no kid in the Commonwealth of Virginia seems capable of doing, wrapping up Percy Harvin.
Then Harvin smiled.
"But I didn't."
- Percy Harvin
- Urban Meyer
- Chris Beatty