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By LARRY VAUGHT
One of the few feel-good stories about Kentucky’s 2012 football season was the emergence of Paducah Tilghman walk-on cornerback J.D. Harmon.
Not only did he get to play in all 12 games in the 2-10 season, but he started the final three games. He led the team in interceptions (two) and tied for second in pass breakups (four). He had 24 tackles, including seven at Missouri.
Harmon was expected to compete again for playing time, and maybe even a starting spot, for new coach Mark Stoops and help provide depth in a secondary lacking proven playmakers. However, that’s not going to happen. Stoops confirmed earlier this week that Harmon was no longer with the team.
What happened? What did the three-sport standout in high school do to jeopardize his college career after he worked so hard last year to prove that he could play in the Southeastern Conference?
Simple. He didn’t maintain the needed academic standing. He was in the academic doghouse most of the offseason and had to be reinstated to the team earlier this summer. Randy Wyatt, Harmon’s high school coach and a former UK player, said his understanding was that Harmon’s “GPA was not high enough to play this fall.”
Wyatt plans to get with Stoops to see if Harmon is wanted back on the football team or not, something Stoops did not elaborate on earlier this week.
“The kid is plenty smart. He is willing to fix it and get his grades right. I know he can do it, too,” Wyatt said. “Sometimes as a freshman you get caught up in things, and that’s what happened to him. Now I just want to do what it takes to make sure my kid gets in the right place for him and his education.
“It’s one of those unfortunate things. He never had a problem of any kind in high school. He’s a good kid. He just did not have his priorities straight. We had a long conversation and told him he had to understand college football is business first. He’s got to understand if UK does not want him back, he can’t be mad at UK. He has to look first at himself in the mirror. He can’t point fingers. He should never have been in this situation where he had to struggle to get eligible.”
Hopefully Harmon is listening closely to Wyatt. The veteran coach won’t abandon Harmon, but he won’t sugar-coat who is to blame here. Wyatt knows what it takes to stay eligible academically because he did it at Kentucky. Wyatt also knows he’ll not hold any grudge against Stoops or UK no matter what the coach decides.
“Whatever decision the UK staff makes, I support Stoops. I understand the situation,” Wyatt said. “The bottom line is he has to look in the mirror at the end of the day. He’s still my kid and I want him to get his education. But I’ve got to be honest and up front with kids. That’s how they respect you.
“This is a business at UK. It’s not high school. No one has a four-year contract. You have to take care of business every day.”
Wyatt hopes one option will be for Harmon to stay in school at UK, improve his grades and rejoin the football team the second semester. If not, Wyatt will understand Stoops’ decision if Harmon is not allowed to play at UK again.
“There will be no hard feelings on my end. They’ve got to do what they do,” Wyatt said. “It’s a learning lesson for him (Harmon). He should never have been in this situation. Whatever Stoops decides, I’ll respect that and he will still be welcome to recruit any of my players in the future. It’s not Stoops’ fault that he (Harmon) is in this spot.”