When Miami’s WR corps was in dire need of a breakout star and the coaching staff called for an open competition at the position this season, senior Mike Harley rose to the occasion with a monster performance. The breakout game from Harley did not happen by chance but was the result of years of dedication to his craft and a testament to his leadership/work ethic at the U.
Long before Harley’s 10 reception/170yard/1TD night against UVA, Harley has embodied the transformation in Miami’s team culture that resulted in this year’s 8-2 regular season, following back-to-back mediocre seasons - all while epitomizing the “Make The Crib Great Again” trend as he hails from local football powerhouse, St. Thomas Aquinas (FL.).
Y'all Really Thought I was Gone Leave The Crib pic.twitter.com/EbFlQTjb1e— Michael Harley Jr. (@MikeHarleyjr) February 1, 2017
Harley’s response to Coach Manny Diaz’s open competition at WR was the senior capstone of a player who has always exhibited leadership qualities during his time at the U - a “make-it attitude” previously displayed by Miami slot receiver, Braxton Berrios, and 2020 NFL draftee WR, K.J. Osborn.
Always a Leader
Besides Harley’s examples of leading on the field and establishing himself as a four-star WR in high school, one of the earliest examples of Harley stepping up came during an early season 2018 game against FIU when other Canes’ receiver, Jeff Thomas, went down due to injury. Harley proceeded to open up the passing offense in his most productive performance to that point with 7 receptions for 76 yards on the way to a 31-17 victory. Then Miami coach, Mark Richt, praised Harley in saying “when Jeff went down, Mike Harley took over.”
In that same season, and beyond showing flashes of his playmaking ability on the field, the then-sophomore began to take over as a vocal leader amongst his peers, which resulted in Richt naming Harley captain for the week against UNC. At that time, Richt said, “We have named [Harley] captain this week because on Tuesday of last week we were struggling in the heat and Harley of all people called the offensive team together and said this isn’t cutting it.”
These qualities were also noted by Berrios prior to his departure to the NFL. Berrios was only teammates with Harley for his freshman year, a year when Harley was dealing with nagging injuries and his production was hampered, but Berrios still noted the positive traits: “He is a guy that truly has it when you talk about the mental side and work ethic. He is a great kid and he understands the game of football,” Berrios said.
And similar to Berrios, Harley predominantly lined up as a slot option. To that end, Harley made an immediate impression this year with newly hired WR coach, Rob Likens, for not only his leadership, but also his ability to be “courageous across the middle.”
In Harley’s junior campaign in 2019, a team that was riddled with poor culture that was spotlighted by suspensions of offensive weapons, WR Jeff Thomas and QB Jarren Williams, Harley did what many teammates shy away from doing: he called out certain prominent players. He did not explicitly specify if the comments were in regards to Thomas and Williams, but stated, “I pointed out two talented guys on our team who play a major role and said, ‘You’ve got to work harder than what you doing because you’re talented and we need you on this team.” Harley said that this message, that was conveyed two days before Miami went on a three-game winning streak, had to do with “practice habits and off-the-field habits.”
In that junior season, Harley deservedly won the the team’s Plumer Award for Leadership, Motivation & Spirit. Harley had the production to match as he compiled 38 receptions, 485 yards, and 3 TDs, which nearly doubled his combined efforts from his first two seasons at the U. His best game last year came against Louisville where he amassed 6 receptions, for 116 yards, and 2 TDs in a 52-27 blowout. In that game, Harley exhibited a strong YAC-ability and showed off his speed, traits that originally resulted in him being highly recruited.
Harley’s Dedication to the U Pays Off
To that end, coming out of St. Thomas Aquinas, Harley’s reputation preceded him as he participated in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, but he was only listed as a 5-9, 155lb WR. Despite being undersized, he caught the eyes of collegiate programs due to his 4.39 40 speed, which is evident out of the blocks, advanced route running, good hands, and an explosive play-making ability.
His ability to compete and dedication to improvement is innate: “I call it competitive excellence,” Harley said after his breakout 2018 FIU game. “I came from a high school where everyone was a star and if someone went down then the next man was up, so you know, it was my time to shine. Opportunity came and I seized it.”
✍️ it in the record books. pic.twitter.com/kXMMyxxeJX— Canes Football (@CanesFootball) November 7, 2020
As a diminutive prospect, Harley constantly focused on proper weight and strength gain in the gym by increasing his mass from a sinewy 155lbs to what is now listed as 180lbs on the Miami website. In addition, despite his prowess as a quick receiver, Harley ran track for the Canes in order to maintain shape and open up his stride as a runner.
The focus to perfecting his craft ultimately culminated in this past season where he earned a selection for the 2021 East-West Shrine Bowl All-Star game. However, before this season, Harley nearly quit because the ample sweat equity Harley had been putting in was not paying sufficient dividends. He did not specify exactly when he considered quitting, but the game after his 170-yard performance, Harley anchored the Canes to a 44-41 victory over NC State by notching 8 receptions for 153 yards and 2 TDs (including the game winning score).
After that game, an emotional Harley explained: “It’s been a long journey. A long road. I came to a point where I wanted to quit, but I’ve been working hard ever since...my coaches kept me on my feet. My brothers kept me on my feet. … I just had thoughts in my mind like, ‘Man, I’m going to quit. I’m [going] to leave.’
“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’s gratefulness and ability to seize any opportunity, which is evident in the must watch video tweet embedded above, initially became clear when he committed to the U back in 2017. In fact, despite being highly recruited by top tier programs and originally committing to WR powerhouse, West Virginia, Harley worked hard his final year in high school and ultimately earned an offer from the Canes and he flipped to the U - his dream school.
“Miami has always been my dream school and I felt comfortable when I visited,” Harley told Scout. “The coaches have granted me an opportunity at Miami — and I’m going to take that opportunity and run with it. Miami has always been my dream school since I was little... Growing up, all I knew was Miami, Miami, Miami. My dad bought me a Miami jersey in second grade, and I always wanted to be a Hurricane.”
Harley Forever a Cane, Transformed the Culture
Over 15 years and countless hours of dedication later, Harley has etched himself as a Cane for life. And for a WR group that was ridiculed for its poor performance through the first half of this season, Harley provided a springboard for the offense to breakthrough. Individually, he finished this regular season as the Hurricanes most productive target with 49 receptions for 730 yards and 6 TDs.
As the culture has changed, Harley’s teammates have noticed his part in that transformation including Striker, Gilbert Frierson, who stated: “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.”
In an unorthodox year where every senior is granted an additional year of eligibility, Harley is faced with the difficult decision whether to stay another year. Although some suspect he has played his last snap at Hard Rock. Coming into the 2020 season, it’s highly unlikely Harley was on many NFL scouts’ radars. However, he has emerged as a clean route runner out of the slot, which NFL teams should give a second look at. In addition, his make-it attitude and leadership skills would be a welcome addition to any pro locker room. Even more, in the past couple weeks, Harley has been getting repetitions on special teams in return duties, which should enhance his draft value.
@CanesFootball wideout Mike Harley has been named the ACC Receiver of the Week for his performance vs #UVA on Saturday.— Embrik Eyles (@EmbrikEyles) October 26, 2020
Harley hauled in a career high in catches (10) and yards (170) along with a TD. Harley accounted for 52.7% of Miami’s yards through the air. #CanesFootball pic.twitter.com/Uzv4GzRkmN
At this point, Harley would likely be considered a late round/undrafted rookie free agent prospect, depending on how his draft testing goes. However, if he returns and strings together a full productive season, then he should be considered a mid-round NFL draft prospect in 2022. If he indeed moves onto the next chapter, Harley’s passion and ability to set the tone for the Canes’ program will certainly be missed.
That said, if this is his final season, Thank U Mike Harley, for taking command and taking the leap for a program that undeniably needed a positive influence and leader to change the Canes’ culture. Thank U for taking that initiative and putting up some of the most exciting performances the Canes faithful has seen this season at a point where it was absolutely needed at the WR position - a position with a rich history (including fellow St. Thomas Aquinas grad Michael Irvin). Thank U for doing the right things day in and day out. And Thank U 3, for representing the Orange the Green as a class act Miami Hurricane.