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RJ Harvey: Things I Know

by John Heisler

UCF running back RJ Harvey has come full circle. A local product from Edgewater High School in Orlando, he was once heavily recruited by UCF. But Harvey ended up at Virginia in hopes of playing quarterback. A year later he was back in Orlando, this time as a running back—and slowly but surely has established himself as one of the best backs in the Big 12 Conference, if not the nation. He has produced five straight 100-yard rushing efforts (best streak since 2007 at UCF) and is already past the 1,000-yard mark for the season, highlighted by a career-best 206 yards and three touchdowns last Saturday in the headline win over 15th-rated Oklahoma State. A star in the classroom as well, he already has his UCF degree and has been a dean’s list selection in multiple semesters and an American Athletic Conference All-Academic pick. The Knights heavily promote the notion of keeping the best central Florida athletes at home (at UCF)—and, after the stop in Charlottesville, Harvey has become the best example of that. Here is his story: 

I started playing flag football when I was 5 years old. My dad (Robert who played cornerback at Bethune-Cookman from 1987-90) taught me how to play football. He coached me up until high school. I started playing quarterback when I was maybe 7 or 8 and all the way through high school and one year at Virginia. 

My little sister (Alaina) plays softball (pitcher and third base) at Allen University in South Carolina, a D-II program. My older sister ran track in high school. My cousin is Roy Jones Jr., the boxer.

In 2016 at Edgewater (High School in Orlando) we finished 0-12. Then Coach (Cameron) Duke came in 2017 and started building the (football) program. I ran track, too, played a little basketball, and I actually started playing baseball before I played football.

I had a lot of college offers to be an athlete and a running back, but I had a few offers to play quarterback. The best opportunities to play quarterback were Georgia Tech and Virginia. I wanted to be a quarterback—that’s what I went up to Virginia to do.

UCF recruited me hard in high school. They wanted me as a running back because they had DG (former UCF and current Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel) to play quarterback. They used to bring McKenzie Milton out to my games. Coach (Anthony) Tuck (Tucker), Coach (Josh) Heupel, Coach (Jeff) Lebby—those three wanted me to come to play running back at UCF bad. I just didn’t want to do it.

I went into the portal after my freshman year at Virginia because I just wanted to come back to Florida. There weren’t a lot of school interested in me then—UCF was the main one, Coach Tucker. A fewer other lower-level D-I schools. In the beginning UCF didn’t have any scholarships, but Coach Heupel put me on scholarship in January 2021 just before he left. 

I started from scratch a little bit as a running back. I knew I could run the ball. At Edgewater I ran the ball a lot (25 rushing TDs as a senior in 2018). I knew I had great running ability—but I had never done any pass-blocking. Even taking the ball from the quarterback. It was all new to me. The running schemes are different when you’re playing running back compared to quarterback. At quarterback when you run, the holes are wide open.

In 2020 I got in for one play in the backfield against East Carolina—and a few more games on special teams. Then I had a great spring in 2021, scored a couple of times in the spring game. I was battling Isaiah Bowser trying to be the number-one running back. Then I got hurt in practice in the preseason just going to block somebody. My knee just gave out and I fell straight to the ground. I came back in 2022, but I really wasn’t fully confident until later in the season. 

In this offense, to be a running back, you gotta be able to do everything—pass protect, run, catch. I’ve got great hands—I can catch everything. The hardest part about the change was pass-blocking and the physicality of that. Playing running back is way more physical than playing quarterback. I never blocked anyone in high school.

RJ Harvey | Photo by: Conor Kvatek

I spent a lot of time on my own trying to learn the running back position. I watched a lot of film, studying running backs like Josh Jacobs (NFL Las Vegas Raiders), Christian McCaffrey (San Francisco 49ers)—I enjoy watching those two. And I learned a lot from guys that were here before—Greg (McCrae), Otis (Anderson), Bentavious (Thompson) and Isaiah (Bowser).

Some of my ability God gave me. What I still work on is my speed endurance—being able to keep the same speed on a long run—like that 92-yard run against Oklahoma State. I’ve got to get better at doing four or five runs back to back. But, if you don’t count 2021 (when I was hurt), this is only my third season playing running back. That’s kind of crazy.

I’m trying to be a more vocal leader. Everybody knows I don’t really talk that much. That’s something I can improve on these last few weeks—keep the guys motivated. I don’t say much—I just want to play.

My dad comes to every game. He critiques me. He knows the kind of player I am—he knows how hard I am on myself. He gives me great motivation before games. He’s a coach so he knows what’s going on. He tells me what I can do better. 


The Harvey Family

RJ with his family following the Knights' win at Cincinnati

After the season I want to do some camps—maybe a free camp and one where you only pay maybe 25 dollars. All the Edgewater guys, like (running back) CJ Baxter at Texas, are going to get together and do a camp. Bring the whole city out and let the kids have a good time.

It’s fun to have all this happen right here when I’m from Orlando. People where I’m from look up to me now. They’re so happy for me, seeing what I’m doing every Saturday and how far I’ve come.