Randy Harvey bombarded schools across the country with calls and letters, searching for some place to play college cornerback, preferably well away from his native Oakland.
There’s not much farther east to go than FIU. The Panthers staff knew it might need cornerbacks, which you can never have too many of in college football these days when everybody’s healthy and eligible.
Which is the short version of how Harvey came from Santa Rosa Junior College to starting the past four games for FIU. Last Saturday against Southern Mississippi, he got his first interception, which helped swing field position and momentum late in the first half, and had a fumble recovery on special teams.
Harvey’s also good at blocking kicks. He got two kicks and a punt last season at Santa Rosa, then an extra point against Louisville.
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“I like doing that kind of stuff,” Harvey said. “I’m a hyper dude.”
The hyper Harvey didn’t graduate Santa Rosa, a Bay Area junior college that also produced Dolphins linebacker Koa Misi, until after the normal winter signing period for junior college players. Harvey wanted to move from West Oakland’s Acorn projects, known for being where former Black Panther Huey Newton died.
“I love California,” Harvey said. “But there’s a lot of things going on. And if you stay where you stay at, you can get caught up in a lot of things. I just wanted to be the first in my family to branch out and do my own thing. I knew I can handle it. I know how to be on my own.”
So, starting in May, “I was pretty much calling every school, every Conference USA school, Sun Belt [Conference, FIU’s former home], any school I could call, I was taking chances on anyone,” Harvey said. “The two I got back were FIU and Idaho State.”
FIU coach Ron Turner played in the Norcal Conference and still had contacts among the conference’s coaches. While Turner viewed film on Harvey, Harvey kept calling, asking if he had a roster spot.
“We kind of waited to see what our numbers were,” Turner said. “He was very persistent. Glad he was because he’s a good player. A good player and a good kid.”
Harvey said when he first got to FIU, “I was kind of nervous. Florida, I know they’ve got some good athletes, so I didn’t know what to expect. But I know I’m a good athlete also, so I was ready to work hard. But I still was a little nervous as you could tell when I first got here.”
He described himself as “wild, all over the place” early in training camp with poor technique.
“We knew he had good speed,” FIU defensive coordinator Josh Conklin said. “Good short-area quickness, lacked a little bit of size as far as stature (5-8, 170). Felt like he could play the field more for us. Depending on what happened with Richard [Leonard] — obviously, losing him [to academic eligibility] hurt — we knew we could develop him. We didn’t think we would have to throw him in there, Game 1 or Game 2. But Game 4 or 5, we thought he’d be ready to go.
“That’s where he is now,” Conklin said. “He’s got a lot of technique and fundamental stuff he’s got to get better at, but he understands the scheme, which makes him more confident and allows him to play faster.”