ATHENS, Ga. — Todd Grantham first saw the unique talents of Josh Harvey-Clemons on a scouting video. The first time he saw him in person was in a basketball game. By then, Grantham was convinced: Here was something special. Here was a guy who could be used everywhere.
Grantham, Georgia’s defensive coordinator, envisioned using Harvey-Clemons at safety, or maybe at nickel cornerback, or outside and inside linebacker. Maybe he could even start a play on the line.
Asked if Grantham has ever had a player like that, the coach shook his head.
“Not like that,” he said. “He’s pretty rare.”
After a long wait, the rare talent is finally ready to be sprung loose. It’s one game too late for the Georgia football team, but it hopes his presence can be the X-factor in its showdown on Saturday against No. 6 South Carolina.
Harvey-Clemons, whom the team has not made available for interviews, was suspended for Georgia’s 38-35 loss at Clemson as a result of a violation of the school’s drug policy. Now he’s available for what will be his first significant action on the college level, having played sparingly as a freshman.
But his skills have been known to Georgia coaches and players for more than a year, as they have watched the tall and rangy Harvey-Clemons make plays and, occasionally, dominate at practices and scrimmages.
“Josh may be the most physical defensive back we have,” junior cornerback Damian Swann said.
So would he have made a difference at Clemson?
“Absolutely,” Swann said. “A tremendous difference.”
That’s moot now, but the evidence is there that Harvey-Clemons can affect Saturday’s game.
Georgia will use Harvey-Clemons at strong safety in its base defense, or at the star position in its nickel defense. At Clemson, freshman Leonard Floyd occupied the star, essentially a nickel-back who is often used to rush the passer.
But Harvey-Clemons has the versatility to do more than Floyd, whether it be dropping all the way back into pass coverage, or acting as a spy on the running abilities of South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw. He also has the lateral quickness to make plays from across the field, the way Alec Ogletree did the past couple years at inside linebacker.
“He’s really a unique player, and you’ll have to actually see him play to understand how he does it,” Conley said. “He has the speed to recover, and make great plays in the passing game. But he also has the size and the weight to stick his nose in there in the running game. He’s fearless.”
Harvey-Clemons was a five-star recruit coming out of Lowndes High two years ago, and Georgia won a heated recruiting battle. But the Bulldogs had to wait 24 hours for it to be official, until his grandfather signed his letter-of-intent.
Last season, there wasn’t really an opening for Harvey-Clemons on Georgia’s veteran defense. Besides, Grantham was still trying to figure out the best way to use him.
“We knew he was something, we just weren’t sure what,” Grantham said.
The 6-foot-5 Harvey-Clemons began at safety, with an eye on gaining weight and moving to outside linebacker. But the weight has never really come on, and he’s around 220 pounds now. Despite that, Harvey-Clemons packs a punch when he makes a tackle, according to teammates and coaches.
In the offseason, Grantham built the defense around Harvey-Clemons, deciding to use him at the star. The Bulldogs are in their nickel defense (usually a 4-2-5) much of the time. So Grantham has utilized the star position during his four years at Georgia, with the likes of Ogletree (an inside linebacker) and Brandon Boykin (a cornerback) playing there.
But Harvey-Clemons seems the most ideal to the role.
“Any time you get a good player, it gives you a spark,” Grantham said. “He’s the kind of guy you want to play in a game like this, when they’re a physical running team. Because he can tackle big backs, physical backs. I think he can, obviously, help us.”