Harvin reflects on image, character question

Percy Harvin during 2009 Pro Scout Day at University of Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville Wednesday, March 18, 2009.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 27, 2009 at 1:24 p.m.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Lintera Harvin playfully describes herself as a “crack-the-whip big sister.” But recently she’s needed to show her younger brother, Percy, her compassionate side, too.

News that Percy tested positive for marijuana a few months before the NFL draft raised even more questions about the character of the dynamic wide receiver from Florida. Combined with a few other incidents in Harvin’s past, the latest red flag seemed to be the final straw for some NFL teams and brought undesirable scrutiny days before the draft.

Lintera, 23, consoled and counseled her brother, just like she always has.

“He cried and was so hard on himself,” she said. “He said, ’I really can’t believe I made this stupid mistake at a time like this.’ I think he got a little discouraged. But that’s part of growing up. You make your bed, you have to lie in it. I just told him to deal with it and move forward in a mature manner.”

The Vikings selected Harvin with the No. 22 overall pick Saturday after an extensive background check, which included a personal visit from coach Brad Childress three days before the draft.

Harvin and his family traveled to the Twin Cities on Sunday to get a first look at their new home. They also offered some perspective on a uniquely talented player who was one of the most versatile and exciting players in college football but also is viewed as a risk because of past incidents.

“Obviously hearing some of the things you hear, unfortunately we can’t control it,” said his stepfather, Leon Little. “I tell anybody, if you just take time and spend time with him, you’ll see a totally different person. It’s kind of sad that people never put a face to the name.”

Harvin admits he had trust issues and temper problems as a kid. But he and his family contend the “character flaws” label that has become attached to him is not an accurate portrayal.

“I’m not a phony person,” he said. “I think a lot of times I was judged by people who didn’t know me or people who were on the outside. ... I was young and made a lot of mistakes and didn’t know how to handle a lot of things at the time. Through all this I’ve learned a lot.”

No one has ever questioned Harvin’s athletic ability. His family first noticed his talent when he was 6 and used to zoom around the field in flag football in Virginia Beach, Va.

“He was so explosive even at that age,” Lintera said.

“We had a lot of people who wanted to double-check the birth certificate,” Little said.

Sports were part of the family’s fabric. Harvin’s mother, Linda, was a track star in high school. Lintera ran track at Eastern Michigan.

“It’s been resonated since childhood,” Little said. “The DNA stamp is written all over it.”

Harvin became a multisport standout, always the best of the best. As a high school freshman, he posted the second-best triple jump in the nation during an indoor track meet in the morning and then scored 24 points in a state playoff game later that night.

Rivals.com ranked Harvin the No. 1 recruit in the nation as a senior, and he is the only athlete in Virginia history to win five gold medals at the state track and field meet.

By his senior year, he was considered one of the greatest athletes ever to come out of an area that produced Allen Iverson, Michael Vick, Ronald Curry and DeAngelo Hall.

“Most people say that next to Iverson, he’s the best athlete to come out of that area recently,” said Harvin’s high school football coach, Chris Beatty, now an assistant at West Virginia. “That’s pretty high praise when you think of all those guys.”

Harvin’s extreme competitiveness and disdain for losing nearly rivaled his athletic prowess. It’s become legendary to those who know him best.

“It gets rough when we play Monopoly,” Lintera said.

“He’s an extremist as far as a competitor,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said. “He’s the type of kid if you played checkers with him, he’s going to try and beat you as hard as he can.”

Imagine Harvin’s reaction when, as an eighth-grader, he lost to his mom in a 100-yard race.

“That was the last time we raced,” Linda said. “I always tell him that I won the last race.”

Harvin’s competitiveness at times became a detriment to his development. His temper flareups exacerbated situations and often created a new set of issues. He was suspended for two days in 2004 for an altercation with a teacher/wrestling coach, and he was barred from athletic competition by the Virginia High School League after an altercation during a basketball game.

“I understand a lot of the things I did were totally wrong,” he said. “If I could rewind it back to where I am now, I could have dealt with half of those things and (they) would have been knocked out when it was. But I didn’t know how to handle things at the time.”

Said Beatty: “All of us probably wish we could go back to when we were 21 or 18 and do things differently. But it’s how you deal with those mistakes. I think Percy has learned from them. I think Percy has been misunderstood a lot. He’s the most competitive person I’ve ever seen. Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes that’s a bad thing. You wish in some cases that cooler heads would prevail.”

Harvin admits his relationship with Meyer was “rocky” when he first got to Florida because he didn’t exactly trust new people, referring to himself as “defensive.” Harvin said he’s matured in that regard and became very close to Meyer the last two years.

“I think a lot of it was me not knowing how to handle things,” he said. “A lot of times I was wrong. Some of the times I was right. But the times I was right I didn’t know how to sit down and kind of express myself. I kind of would blow up and the next thing you know it turns into disrespect and all that when I was just trying to get my point across.”

Harvin and his family — which he describes as his “backbone” — insist he’s better equipped to handle things now. He said he learned from his recent mistake with the failed drug test and hopes to get a fresh start with the Vikings.

“I got down a lot, cried a lot (the past few weeks),” he said. “I got real down on myself and my mom said, ’Everything’s going to be all right.’ My mom has never let me down once. Hearing those words from her, I knew everything is going to be all right.”

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