Many people, including Coach John Featherstone, used words such as inexperienced and untested to describe El Camino College quarterback Rod Harvey throughout most of the season.
But not anymore. Not after Harvey helped lead the Warriors (8-2) to a tie for first place in the 16-member Mission Conference. And not after El Camino won its fourth consecutive Mission Conference Northern Division title with a 4-0 record.
Harvey will lead the Warriors against Orange Coast College on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Orange County Bowl.
The gangly quarterback, a first team All-Mission Conference selection, has completed 58% of his passes this season for 2,104 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“A lot of people didn’t think I would do this good,” Harvey said. “Hey, I even surprised myself.”
Featherstone believes Harvey is the team’s most improved player. The coach said there have been some bad performances, but overall Harvey has been consistent.
“Our biggest concern with Rod is that he was inexperienced and he’s not a big, physical guy,” Featherstone said. “That’s why quarterback was one of our biggest questions on this year’s team.
“But he’s a fighter and he’s a battler. He’s had his fanny popped a few times, but he always gets back up. With the abilities he has, he gets the most of it.”
Harvey is not a dominating figure in the pocket, where he feels most comfortable. Even in pads and a helmet, he looks small at 6 foot 1 and 170 pounds.
From the start, the 20-year-old sophomore was expected to live up to the El Camino quarterback tradition. Harvey’s All-American predecessors have been Dan Speltz, Ron Barber, Tim Green and Frank Dolce.
And Harvey has excelled in the successful community college program known for its passing offense.
The expectations alone were enough to give a young player ulcers and Harvey has felt the heat. He said he was confident when battling two freshmen this summer for the starting job, but once he got it, he was worried.
“I guess I knew deep down inside that I could do it, but I was nervous,” Harvey said. “When I got the job in August, it was kind of scary for me.”
No one has seen that side of Harvey. His coaches and teammates say there have been no signs of fear or apprehension. On the field, he is always confident and aggressive.
“He’s a very strong leader on this team,” Featherstone said. “He takes command in the huddles and he doesn’t take any crap from the other kids.”
Anthony Daigle, El Camino’s standout tailback, said: “He never displayed that he was under any pressure. He always takes charge of the offense.”
Daigle, a redshirt transfer from Arizona State, has lifted some of the pressure off Harvey with his spectacular running. He is the first back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in Featherstone’s six years at El Camino.
Having a runner such as Daigle has been perfect for Harvey, who had not started at quarterback since his senior year at Morningside High (1988). He passed for 1,700 yards as a senior for a Monarch team that went 2-7. As a junior, Harvey led Morningside to the CIF playoffs.
“Rod is the most pure passing quarterback we’ve had here,” Morningside Coach Ron Tatum said. “He’s a real quarterback from the old mold. He throws very well.”
But Harvey wasn’t recruited and planned on giving up his football career after high school. Tatum suggested he try playing at a community college and Harvey started to attend El Camino part-time in the fall of 1988.
Featherstone had him work out as a redshirt, but Harvey rarely went to practice and his teammates called him “ghost.” Harvey said he lacked motivation and dedication. His mother, Ellen, believes it was because he missed the competition.
“It was difficult for him when he wasn’t playing,” Ellen said. “He’s much happier now and he’s much easier to get along with.”
Harvey didn’t play much as a freshman last year, but he practiced harder. He was the backup to Dolce, who passed for 2,494 yards and led the Warriors to a 10-1 record. Harvey said he learned a lot from watching the powerful 6-1, 200-pound quarterback who is playing at Utah this season.
“It was a great experience for me as a player and a person,” Harvey said. “Frank really helped me out. It helped to analyze what he did. And I treasured the little time I did play.”
This season there has been a lot to treasure, on and off the field. Harvey has played in every game (he missed part of the Cerritos game with a sore back and thigh) and his son, Travis, was born six months ago.
He lives in Inglewood with his parents and sister, but he sees Travis every day after football practice and on Sundays. Travis lives in Inglewood with Harvey’s girlfriend, Tiwana, and her parents.
“It’s changed my life a lot,” Harvey said of being a father. “Just watching the process of birth and thinking ‘this is my making.’ That’s helped me with football because I must set examples for this team. I know now that I can be a father and still help this team.”
Featherstone said being a father has helped Harvey in many ways.
“One of the biggest stabilizing factors in Rod’s life is the birth of his son,” Featherstone said. “He’s grown up a bunch since then.”
Harvey, a criminal justice major, said he will savor his last game as a Warrior on Saturday. He’d like to play at a four-year college, but he has accepted the possibility that this might be the end of his football career.