Arizona State wide receiver Jalen Harvey was back home in Northern California enjoying his winter break and decompressing after the team’s disappointing 5-7 season when he received an early Christmas present.
Quarterback Manny Wilkins, Santa Claus in this situation, texted Harvey the news: ASU had hired former Kansas offensive coordinator Rob Likens as its wide receiver coach, filling the void left when Jay Norvell took a head coaching position at Nevada.
“I was like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy,’” Harvey said.
Harvey and Likens have known one another since Likens — then an assistant at Cal — recruited Harvey to play for the Golden Bears. Harvey committed to Cal, but was eventually forced to decommit due to academic reasons. Harvey then signed with ASU out of high school.
He never thought his recruitment would come full circle in this way.
“It’s a blessing,” said Harvey of Likens’ hiring. “You never know what can turn out in life, so when I heard that he was a coach, there was a big smile on my face.”
After Likens was hired, he and Harvey caught up on the phone and talked about how ironic it was that they were together again. Likens never received the opportunity to coach Harvey at Cal, but a lot can happen in nearly four years.
Since he arrived at ASU, Harvey has tried to find his footing. He broke his collarbone during his freshman year and redshirted. He only made five game appearances the next season. And while his contributions weren’t much, he did catch a touchdown in the Territorial Cup game against Arizona at Sun Devil Stadium. Last season, he caught five catches for 83 yards against Cal in a game he admitted had extra meaning to it.
His career has been a bit bumpy, but he has withstood it and has continued to mature throughout the past two years.
“Willing to study, willing to ask questions, just willing to ask for help,” said Harvey, a rising redshirt junior. “I always thought I knew it all coming in, but it’s just like another schooling coming from high school to college. You got to study your plays, go to school. It’s just intense.”
Likens has noticed that Harvey pays great attention to small details. When Likens talks on the field, Harvey listens. When he talks in the film room, or “classroom,” Harvey takes note.
Harvey doesn’t stop there.
“When I talk about something in the classroom, he can translate it out onto the field that day, and that’s what helps you improve faster,” Likens said.
Harvey said he is focused on making sure his collarbone fully heals. He said he has felt the strain on it as he has moved to lifting heavier weights in his strength regimen.
But when he hit the field last year — for practices and for games — he forgot about the injury.
“I just lay it out there for my team and for myself,” Harvey said. “When it comes to the field, I don’t feel nothing. It’s numb.”
Likens said Harvey seemed as if he was ailing throughout parts of Monday’s spring football practice. However, Harvey powered through and finished it. He didn’t let the injuries bother him.
Another one of Harvey’s positive qualities is his selflessness. Likens said Harvey will do anything for a play to succeed.
Although he certainly can catch passes, his morale doesn’t rely on it. He doesn’t need to be a No. 1 option. He can take satisfaction in sealing an impactful block.
“He takes pride in doing all the dirty work, the little stuff.,” Likens said.
Harvey said he wants to work on being one of the team’s vocal leaders, including taking younger players under his wing.
“A lot of the younger guys don’t really hear from the players who’ve been playing or have experience, or the game feeling,” he said.
He said he chose ASU because of head coach Todd Graham’s emphasis on discipline and brotherhood, a common theme among many Sun Devils.
But there is an added bit on excitement to this season. It comes in the form of a reunion with someone he knew long before he met any of his ASU teammates.
“With Coach Likens here, there’s an extra oomph to it,” Harvey said.