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January 5, 2007

Percy Harvin has a season of change

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Percy Harvin's first year of college football has been a season of brilliance that helped put Florida on the brink of a national championship.

It has also been a season of change.

He changed his jersey number. He changed a few games. And he changed opinions.

When Harvin, rated by Rivals.com as the nation's top high school prospect in 2006, was first issued a University of Florida football uniform he was given jersey number eight rather than the 11 he wore at Landstown High School in Virginia Beach, Va.

He was apathetic about the switch, but his mother, Linda, welcomed the change.

"I called my mom and told her I got No. 8," he recalled Friday while sitting in the bleachers at University of Phoenix Stadium, where Florida (12-1) will face Ohio State (12-0) for the national championship on Monday night. "She told me that in the Bible eight stood for a new beginning. We talked about having a new beginning and a clean slate."

There was no questioning Harvin's talent and athletic ability coming out of high school. He has been clocked at 4.24 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

But off-field incidents, including an arrest allegedly for stealing trophies from his high school, tarnished his image. His new teammates at Florida were well aware that Harvin would bring great ability to Gainesville, but wondered if he'd bring trouble, too.

"I remember the knock on him was that's he had a bad attitude," All-SEC linebacker Brandon Siler said. "When he first got here I watched everything he did. I didn't talk to him, I just watched him.

"After a while I'm thinking, 'Why do people say that? He works hard. If that's the attitude he has, then go ahead. I love it.' "

There's been so much to love.

Though hobbled at times with a sprained ankle suffered while making a catch against Tennessee in the third game of the season, Harvin has been the dangerous receiver he was projected to be, grabbing 25 catches for 367 yards. Those numbers would be even greater, except that injuries to tailback DeShawn Wynn forced coach Urban Meyer to use Harvin as a running back, too.

Harvin has lined up in the backfield as a tailback. He has taken direct snaps. He has carried the ball on reverses. As a result, Harvin has averaged a whopping 11.3 yards per carry by rushing for 406 yards on 36 carries.

"I wasn't healthy and couldn't make certain cuts," he said. "I couldn't make cuts that I can make how that I'm healthy. When I was hurt I could go north and south full speed, but I couldn't cut. The last three or four games I've been 100 percent."

The Ohio State defense, which ranks 15th nationally against the run, has taken notice.

"I think he's a great athlete," Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "Because they're so young you usually can't do much with freshmen because of the complexity of the offense. But they've done a great job getting him the ball."

Harvin figures to play a key role in the Gators' quest to upset the top-ranked Buckeyes and win their first national championship in 10 years, especially after his tremendous performance in Florida's 38-28 victory over Arkansas in the SEC championship game.

He caught five passes for 62 yards and a touchdown and rushed six times for 105 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown run.

"He can change the game at any point, any time," Florida backup quarterback Tim Tebow said.

Obviously, Harvin can change a lot of things.

For more coverage of the BCS Championship Game, check out GatorBait.net and BuckeyeGrove.com.

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