ATHENS – Initially, Josh Harvey-Clemons was not at all enamored with the thought of playing special teams for Georgia.
“At first I wasn’t really going all out in it because I really didn’t want to be on it,” said Harvey-Clemons, a 5-star recruit out of Valdosta. “ I wanted to be on defense. But Coach talked it up to me. We were watching film of like the LSU game when Tyrann Matthieu ran that punt back and he was just stressing how important it is.”
Harvey-Clemons has changed his tune since then. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound freshman is a starter on three of the Bulldogs special teams units, getting repped on another, and this week was named Georgia’s special teams captain for the Kentucky game.
Being named a captain as a true freshman is a rare honor in Bulldog annals. The last to do it was linebacker Rennie Curran in 2007.
“I didn’t realize (what a big deal it was) at first,” Harvey-Clemons said. “Coach told us in a team meeting and he was saying how rare it is. I really was shocked. I didn’t have that many opportunities in the South Carolina game so I wasn’t really expecting it. I was real honored.”
On defense, Harvey-Clemons plays safety and nickelback. But his snaps there have been few and far between. But he is on the Bulldogs’ No. 1 units for kickoff, kickoff return and punt returns and lately has been getting reps on the punt team as well. He enters the Kentucky game with 8 tackles and has one tackle for loss.
“I was really proud that he was able to be named captain, which is really a statement as a true freshman,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “Special teams is a place you can play as fast as you can, then you’re out. He’s got the size, the strength. I’ve been really pleased with his progress.”
Harvey-Clemons projected as an outside linebacker or rush end when he signed with the Bulldogs out of Lowndes High. But unlike fellow signee and close friend Jordan Jenkins, Harvey-Clemons hasn’t packed on the pounds since arriving at UGA in June. He’s only about 10 pounds up from his high school weight.
Georgia is comfortable if he never gets much heavier because he has exceptional speed and shown strong potential in the secondary and also as an occasional wide receiver. But the belief is he’ll eventually grow into standout defensive player close to the line of scrimmage.
“He’s got a lot of ability,” head coach Mark Richt said. “He’s a great example of a very talented guy that just needs more reps on defense for the coaches to get comfortable playing him there on a consistent basis. But when he does, and you add another year’s worth of muscle and conditioning and knowledge, he’s going to be a heck of a football player. But if we threw him out there right now it would be tough on him, no matter how talented he is. That’s kind of what Kentucky’s been through a little bit. They’ve thrown some guys in there faster than they probably would like to do.”
With his current defensive position well-manned, Harvey-Clemons’ primary role this first season is going to be as a special teams specialist. It’s a part he is now at peace with playing.
“I talked to my granddad about it and he said, ‘Just work hard on special teams and make plays while you’re out there while you have an opportunity to be out there,’” Harvey-Clemons said. “So I just took that to heart and try to go hard any time I get a chance to go out there on any special teams.”
That approach is working well so far.
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