N’Keal Harry poised to join Sun Devils’ all-time receiving greats
TEMPE, Ariz. – N’Keal Harry offered Sun Devil football fans a glimmer of hope when asked if he has thought about breaking the ASU records for receptions and receiving yards.
“It has crossed my mind, but it’s not something I think about too much,” the junior wide receiver said. “I still have a whole two seasons left of eligibility. I’m just focused on being the best I can be within the short amount of time frame I have left.”
It would probably take Harry two seasons to break Derek Hagan’s receptions record of 258 (Harry has 140). It would take two good seasons for Harry to break Hagan’s receiving yards record of 3,939 (Harry has 1,801). The trouble is, it is widely assumed that barring an injury or an unexpectedly unproductive season, Harry will turn pro after this season.
“No idea, honestly,” he said, while laughing at a question he has been asked at least 100 times. “There’s a lot of things I still have to learn, I have to grow through and I’m thankful for the people who have been there and can talk to me through experience and tell what to do, what not to do and how to handle myself.”
One of those people is Hagan, whom coach Herm Edwards hired as an offensive analyst in March. Hagan is the most productive receiver in Sun Devil history and one of the program’s all-time best on a list that starts with John Jefferson. Hagan played eight NFL seasons with the Miami Dolphins, the New York Giants, the Oakland Raiders, the Buffalo Bills and the Tennessee Titans. He has a wealth of experience, but his advice to Harry has been economical.
“Just stay true to who he is,” Hagan said. “It’s all about being prepared, but football is supposed to be a fun game. It can get difficult at times but that’s what it’s supposed to be and that’s the advice I have given him: have fun, understand what you’re doing and when you have a task at hand, go out and execute that task.”
Harry’s obvious attributes are his size and strength. At 6-foot-4, 213 pounds, he can overwhelm a lot of college defensive backs. By all accounts, he hasn’t wasted those attributes with a cavalier approach to study and practice.
“Herm brought that pro-style model here and N’Keal is really fitting that model well, just understanding how to be a pro and practicing like a pro and handling business like a pro,” Hagan said. “He’s just a guy that wants it. Going into his junior season, he wants to be the best, whether it’s on the field or off the field. When he’s on the field he shows up. He puts his hard hat on and he’s ready to go. I’ve seen it day after day after day.”
Edwards wants to employ a pro-style offense with more running plays this season, but Harry will get his targets and touches.
“He’s a big-time player,” Edwards said. “I’ve always done that with my big players that I’ve had on my teams. The receiver that comes to mind is [former Kansas City Chiefs tight end] Tony Gonzalez. We knew there were going to be so many passes in a game and he was going to get targeted so many times.
Edwards knows teams will try to take Harry out of the game, but he’s willing to let Harry make plays even when he appears to be covered.
“We say there’s 50-50 balls but when he’s involved it’s probably 80-20,” Edwards, a former cornerback, said, noting how difficult it is to defend a player with Harry’s size and athleticism. “I played against guys like that in the league. With the big, strong, physical guys, it’s all about position. You’ve got to be in position and you’ve got to go for the ball. They don’t catch the ball on their chest. They extend to catch the ball.
“There’s a lot of guys in the [NFL] with similar traits. You have them covered but they’re not and the quarterback still throws the ball to them. You think,’ well, he’s covered.’ Not really. He’s not covered. You try to get him in matchups where you feel like if you throw it to him, our chances of winning are probably 80 percent, maybe more depending who the competitor is.”
While there are questions swirling all around him with a new coaching staff, a revamped defense and an unproven set of running backs, Harry has quietly added a new wrinkle to his game this offseason.
“I could take my blocking to a whole new level. I could take my physicality to a whole new level,” he said. “Last year, I thought I could not practice too hard, blocking-wise, and then go out in the game and just magically block hard but it doesn’t work like that. That’s something I really took pride in this offseason and I think it will really show in the games this year.”
If Harry improves on last season’s numbers of 82 catches for 1,142 yards and eight touchdowns while showing that more complete game, he could set himself up as a high selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, or he could set himself up to shatter Hagan’s records in his senior year.
“That’s totally up to him,” Hagan said. “I’m not in N’Keal’s shoes but records are set and meant to be broken. I broke Shaun McDonald’s and John Jefferson’s records. If somebody like N’Keal comes around and breaks those records that’s great. It means he has had a great career in a Sun Devil uniform.”
Harry was on some preseason watch lists but he was noticeably absent from others, such as ESPN’s list of the top 50 college players.
Motivation? Not really.
“My motivation is always at the same level,” he said. “I don’t need any man’s opinion on me to add fuel to the fire. I already have fuel in that fire. I think about my family back on the island, I think about my grandmother and everything I want to achieve. That’s enough motivation for me.”
Whether he returns for his senior year or not, Harry said hopes to mentioned in the same breath as Hagan and Jefferson.
“Of course,” he said. “Those are guys that paved the way. Those are guys that I immediately heard about once I started getting recruited. One day, I hope kids do the same with me.”
ASU career receptions leaders
- 258 — Derek Hagan, 2002-05
- 222 — D.J. Foster, 2012-15
- 188 — John Jefferson, 1974-77
- 168 — Chris McGaha, 2006-09
- 164 — Eric Guliford, 1989-92
- 157 — Jaelen Strong, 2013-14
- 156 — Shaun McDonald, 2000-02
John Mistler, 1977-80
- 143 — Lenzie Jackson, 1995-98
- 140 — Keith Poole, 1993-96
140 – N’Keal Harry, 2016-present
ASU career receiving yards leaders
- 3,939 — Derek Hagan, 2002-05
- 2,993 — John Jefferson, 1974-77
- 2,867 — Shaun McDonald, 2000-02
- 2,694 — Aaron Cox, 1984-87
- 2,691 — Keith Poole, 1993-96
- 2,458 — D.J. Foster, 2012-15
- 2,408 — Eric Guliford, 1989-92
- 2,287 — Jaelen Strong, 2013-14
- 2,242 — Chris McGaha 2006-09
- 2,149 — John Mistler, 1977-80
1,801 — N’Keal Harry, 2016-present