UK Football: Walk-on DB Harmon's hard work paying off
Kentucky defensive back J.D. Harmon tackles a Missouri ball-carrier during the Wildcats¿ loss Saturday. Harmon turned down a scholarship offer for 2013 to walk on this season because he wanted to play right away. (Victoria Graff / October 30, 2012)
He had academic scholarship money that he had to turn down to play football because if he had accepted it, he would have counted against Kentucky’s scholarship total.
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips also offered him a chance to grayshirt and enroll in January 2013, but Harmon wanted to play.
“He wanted to come in and play. So the only option for him was to pay his own way,” Phillips said. “For him to do that speaks volumes because he had to give up some academic money to do it. I'm really happy that he did get here.”
Harmon, who will go on scholarship before next season, had his best game in Saturday at Missouri, when he intercepted two passes early in the second half. He also had a career-high seven tackles after going into the game early when starting cornerback Cody Quinn injured his hamstring.
Harmon shared his thoughts on his journey from Paducah Tilghman High School to Kentucky:
Question: How do you view this season since you have gone from a relatively unknown walk-on receiver to a contributor as a true freshman in the secondary?
Harmon: “I am very proud. It takes a lot of hard work and patience. I have just been waiting for my name to be called. I do anything these ask. It just comes with being that guy that guy comes in and does what all the coaches want with hard work. It pays off with patience. You just have to wait.”
Question: It’s not easy for non-scholarship players to impress coaches, so what did you do to catch the coaches’ eyes so quickly?
Harmon: “I just worked hard in the weight room. When we ran, I tried to be first and challenged a couple of freshmen. When they needed something to be done, I did it. I showed I was really dedicated to earning my scholarship and that I could play with these guys without the scholarship. I just wanted to play.”
Question: Did you come to Kentucky expecting to be a receiver?
Harmon: “When I first came here, I was playing receiver. I was working with LaRod King and Daryl Collins and all the other receivers. Then with the situation with Marcus Caffey (being academically ineligible), coach Phillips talked to me about moving to corner. It was what was best for the team, and I am a team guy. I felt if that was what needed to be done, I would do it. I didn’t have any problem. I went both ways in high school.”
Question: How long did it take you to realize you could play this year at cornerback even as a walk-on?
Harmon: “Probably during (preseason) camp. It wasn’t like everybody had a set position. It was more like you work hard, you earn your position and your dues in the program. I felt like everybody that plays on defense earned that playing time and bought into the program. We outworked each other. We pushed each other to work hard.”
Question: What has the reaction in Paducah been to your success?
Harmon: “Everybody back home is really proud of me. I call them a lot. I still talk to football coach Randy Wyatt every day. I check in with the football team and see how they are doing. They are all proud of me. It’s good.”
Question: How big a role did Wyatt play in your career?
Harmon: “He played the biggest role. He was the guy that sat me down and told me I had the potential to be a D-1 athlete. He pushed me harder than any coach I had coming up.
“He played a big role. I kind of viewed him as a dad. He called me son and I called him dad. If I need somebody to talk to, I can talk to coach Wyatt about. He played a big role in all of this, and I thank him for that.”