When Michael Harley scored the game-winning 54-yard touchdown with 2:43 remaining in the Miami Hurricanes' 44-41 victory at N.C. State on Friday night, he went straight to the ground in what was a cathartic moment for the UM senior receiver.
Knowing what he has felt earlier in his college career, one could understand where those emotions stemmed from after he caught a short slant, broke free from a defender that made him stumble and, regaining his balance, sprinted to the end zone for the go-ahead score.
Harley once nearly wanted to quit football.
As seasons came and went, the former All-American speedster out of St. Thomas Aquinas had yet to have his breakout moment in college, despite his best efforts behind the scenes.
“Me being here for four years, it’s been a long journey, a long road,” Harley said. “I came to a point where I wanted to quit and where I wanted to give up. I’ve just been working hard ever since, and I never gave up. Coaches always kept me on my feet. My brothers kept me on my feet. They told me to keep pushing and just keep working, and I just kept working hard until my name was called. Everything came into the light. Hard work pays off.”
The touchdown was one of two for Harley on Friday night. He finished with eight receptions for 153 – this a game after his 10-catch, 170-yard, one-touchdown performance against Virginia that earned him ACC Receiver of the Week honors. Harley leads the Hurricanes this season with 35 receptions for 497 yards and four touchdowns through seven games.
“That’s what you want your seniors to do,” UM coach Manny Diaz said. “You want them to make those plays. He’ll remember that for the rest of his life.”
Harley didn’t specify at what point in his first three seasons he had thoughts of letting go of his career, but the notion grew on him as time passed with others in his class breaking through while he hadn’t had his moment. Harley had 485 receiving yards as a junior last season, 240 as a sophomore and 91 in his freshman campaign.
“Just general frustration, seeing the guys you came in with shining,” Harley said. "I just been working hard ever since I came on campus. I just never [saw] the results. … I just had thoughts in my mind like, ‘Man, I’m going to quit. I’m [going] to leave. This and that. This and that. This and that.’
“But every time I come to Greentree [Practice Fields] — just period, like every time I come on campus — I’m so grateful and so blessed to be here because a lot of kids would die to be in this position — and definitely where I’m from. I just took back and used that as motivation to just keep going and don’t give up.”
Harley knows many players in his same position would’ve transferred elsewhere, but he didn’t want to go that route.
“A lot of players get emotional, and then next thing you know, they hit the [transfer] portal,” Harley said. “Me, I was just different. I kept going.”
Quarterback D’Eriq King said Harley was also crying in the locker room after the game. Harley said the emotions also came from the way the team, in years past, wasn’t winning many of these close, contested games. The Hurricanes erased a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit on Friday.
“The four years I’ve been here, we’ve had some hard battles and didn’t come out with the victory,” Harley said, “but this team is very special. We fought all the way until the end, and it led up to me to put a dagger in their heart.”
The recent chemistry built between King and Harley has lifted King’s game. King threw for 430 yards and five touchdowns and ran for 105 yards.
“Mike is a great guy. On the bus ride over here from the hotel, he texted me and told me that he loved me and ‘let’s go be great [Friday] night,’” King said. “Mike and I are both older guys, so it means a lot to us. We don’t have all the time in the world to play here, so we want to give it our all. Mike’s a leader in the locker room. He keeps me in check sometimes and is just a great guy. I’m so happy that everything is starting to pay off for him.”
Said striker Gilbert Frierson: “The whole team was excited for Mike. He works hard. Offseason, he is always working hard. Every time you see him, he is always working. He’s trying to get the guys better. After practice, he’s at the Jugs machines and running routes. He’s bringing the guys along with him. He’s the oldest guy in the room. They all look up to him.”
Harley wasn’t the only one playing with strong emotions on Friday night. King had a heavy heart, tweeting postgame, “Rip pops Rip KD I love y’all forever.” King lost his father, Eric King, in February and former Houston roommate and teammate Ka’Darian Smith was shot and killed in his apartment in Houston this week. He was 22.
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