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Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry steps up to coach’s challenge

Arizona State wide receiver N'Keal Harry (1) makes the catch over Oregon cornerback Deommodore Lenoir during the first half during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

It’s probably a good thing that first-year Arizona State offensive coordinator Billy Napier wasn’t stubborn with his first impression of sophomore wide receiver N’Keal Harry.

As Napier first arrived on campus in the spring he found his star receiver, who’d caught 58 balls for 659 yards and five touchdowns as a true freshman, overweight and banged up. The former Alabama wide receivers coach found Harry at 234 pounds going into the summer.

Napier challenged him, and it paid off.

“Well N’Keal, truth be known, didn’t have his best start with me when I first got here,” Napier said on Wednesday. “He would sit around on the couch probably a couple months going into this offseason. He was a little out of shape when he first got here and a little banged up going into the offseason and spring ball. He responded great, had a tremendous summer, really started to see that competitor come out.”

Napier didn’t see laziness in his new pupil. Instead, it was a matter of maturity for the former four-star prospect, who’d burst onto the scene and quickly drew the adoration of Sun Devil faithful.

Now reinvigorated, Harry has seen his development take off. He’s still a physical specimen – a horse that Napier has nicknamed “Secretariat” who’s drawn double teams on the outside constantly and become a focal point of ASU’s “Sparky” formation. Through six games, he’s nearly matched his production of his full freshman year with 43 catches for 555 yards and three touchdowns. It’s just the beginning of what could come.

“He would be the first person to tell you he’s still young, still has a long way to go,” Napier said. “But I’m proud of N’Keal and he certainly knows how to prepare, knows how to practice, and he is one of the best competitors that I have been around. He will continue to grow, man. Football is a developmental game, and it doesn’t matter if you play two years or 10 years, he could be an eighth-year NFL player and still be learning. I think he knows that and he’s got a heck of a coach in (wide receivers) coach (Rob) Likens and he shows up and tries to get better every day and that’s all you can ask for.”

Likens, also in his first year with the program, has been impressed by his young No. 1 receiver. While the polish of veteran pieces such as Jalen Harvey has yet to come, the natural physical tools and level of competitiveness have made Harry special.

“The thing he does well is, on game day, that guy is just a fierce competitor and he seems to just make plays,” Likens said Tuesday. “When the ball’s around him anywhere, he’s just going to come up with it. That’s something that’s pretty special, and not all guys have. I think he needs still working on the little things of receiver play, releases, just coming off the ball at certain paces on different route stems.”

The biggest development has come between coordinator and player. Napier’s first impressions of Harry didn’t quite excite the first-year man on the possibility of what he could become. The two have quickly become close, each engineering the Sun Devil offense in their own way.

“I think him doing what he is supposed to do, it’s pretty simple, and learning that we weren’t going to compromise, that was the thing,” Napier said of working with Harry. “We had to have a few hard talks. Sometimes I think how you treat your best players on your team, because the other guys are watching, that’s critical that you are consistent in your approach.”

This story appears on courtesy of a partnership with, part of the Scout Network and home for the most detailed information on Arizona State football.

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