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Jalen Harvey’s toughness paying dividends for ASU

Arizona State wide receiver Jalen Harvey reacts after gaining a first down against Oregon during the second half during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona State defeated Oregon 37-35. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The level of trust between redshirt junior quarterback Manny Wilkins and redshirt junior receiver Jalen Harvey has been fostering for years, even when the two didn’t know they’d wind up playing together.

The two have seen each other on the field since before either could even remember starting out for the first time in the sport. While the duo’s Pop Warner days may only be recalled through relatives’ memories, the natural bond between the two shows through in the game’s most critical learning.

“I’ve known Jalen since I was — he didn’t know this, and I didn’t know this — but my uncle told me a while ago that we played against each other in Pop Warner growing up,” Wilkins said. “I met him probably freshman year of high school, sophomore year of high school and just built a little bit of a relationship. He was really big on going to Cal, going to Oregon and all that stuff but we just built a relationship and he ended up coming here.”

“I’ve known Manny since Pop Warner. [In high school], I saw him at a Nike combine and he was throwing it to me every play,” Harvey said. “We have a lot of history.”

Harvey has emerged as Arizona State’s key third-down option this season in what has been a breakout season for the NorCal native. The former 4-star prospect’s toughness and skills were critical in the Sun Devils’ 37-35 upset win over then-No. 24 Oregon on Saturday, as he hauled in eight passes for 133 yards.

Six of those yards mattered more than most.

The Sun Devils were driving down 35-34 with less than five minutes remaining when Jalen Harvey went down hard on his left collarbone – the same one he’d broken as a redshirt freshman. He sat out just one play, then lined up and caught a first-down slant on third-and-6 to cement ASU’s spot in field goal range.

It left an impression on his teammates.

“[Jalen], he’s a savage,” senior running back Demario Richard said. “Like a real savage. A dog. He has that dog in him. I don’t never worry about Jalen.”

“He has a chip on his shoulder, and he wants to do things after being in college and going into the NFL, so he knows what it takes,” Wilkins said. “I think he’s seen people work their butts off to get there, so he’s envisioned that for himself. He has a really good feel for just playing football.”

Harvey’s skill set has provided another layer to a Sun Devil receiving corps that is the deepest its been under coach Todd Graham. Of the 41 balls he’s brought in for his career, 34 have gone for first downs.

Just one of his 16 catches this season alone have gone for first downs, though he mildly contested that the lone non-first down – a jet sweep that gained just three yards in the second half on Saturday – shouldn’t be included.

“That’s a pass?” he asked with a smile. “I thought that was a rush. Oh well. I don’t really focus on that.”

While 100 percent efficiency is no longer possible, it’s still Harvey’s ideal.

“When third down comes around, I don’t know who’s getting the ball but I know that when it comes my way I have to get it,” Harvey said. “I have to get it, or I have to settle for a field goal. I don’t like field goals. If I feel like I have to get that first down, no matter how many times I have to, I have to for my team.”

It’s a competitive spirit that Graham is quite familiar with. Heck, he sees it in himself each and every day. With such an astute and firsthand knowledge of handling the “fire,” Graham knows that the ingrown trait needs to be properly manicured. Yes, a competitive fire can drive you towards the kind of numbers Harvey has produced. But it can also be a double-edged sword with teammates.

“He’s so competitive, man,” Graham said. “I identify with Jalen more than any kid on our team. He reminds me the most of me, in the good ways and bad ways. I tell him that, too. He’s just so passionate. He’s so competitive. I just, I like that about him. He’s just, he can’t stand to lose. I tell him his greatest assets are his passion and his enthusiasm and his competitiveness, and his greatest deficits are the same three things.”

Harvey grew up a Cal fan in Northern California, and was committed to the Golden Bears through much of his high school career. But when the commitment fell through, he too felt a kinship with his new coach. Graham made his sentiments clear in the duo’s first interactions in Tempe.

“I don’t know about the similarities, but he just loves my fire,” Harvey said. “I don’t really talk too much about it, but at the same time I still do talk a lot with my wide receiver group and unit. It’s just my fire. He’s been saying that since I got here, but he tells me I have to channel it because it’s a good and a bad thing. The emotion part, might get carried away and get a penalty and get a little too fired up.”

“He loves it,” Graham said. “I tell him all the time, ‘You and I have got the same disease.’ I mean, he loves to compete. It doesn’t matter what he’s doing, he wants to win.”

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