Georgia Tech incoming freshman punter Pressley Harvin III with his shorthaired Labrador Rocky at Harvin’s home in South Carolina on May 31, 2017. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

Freshman punter forges to Georgia Tech

“I was just determined — I am not going to let this thing here take me out,” Harvin said.

That was 31 years ago. Aside from a two-year stretch later in his teen years when he received a transplant that failed — he acknowledges being a hard-headed adolescent and not taking proper medication — he has lived a life dependent on dialysis to filter his blood. He undergoes three treatments a week at home, four hours at a time. Living with end-stage kidney failure has not kept him from working — he is the transportation coordinator for the Head Start program in nearby Sumter County — or being present in the life of his family — wife, Adrienne, and sons Pressley III and Haze. He also is the music minister at New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Sumter.

“I wanted them to not see me as someone sick all the time,” said Pressley Jr., 47, who hopes to get on a transplant waiting list at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. “I couldn’t do what a lot of other dads could do, but I did what I could do.”

One thing he can do — in about a week, he’ll make the 4 1/2-hour drive from the family’s home in rural Alcolu to take Pressley III to Georgia Tech, where he is expected to be the Yellow Jackets’ punter for the next four seasons.

Pressley Jr.’s elder son will take with him a perspective and sense of purpose that living around medical hardship — and his parents’ response to it — has provided.

“It’s not an excuse to not be successful or not perform because you see your parents and you see your dad,” Adrienne said. “He easily could be on disability, but disability would not afford us the lifestyle that we want for our children.”

Life has served heaping portions of health challenges to the Harvins. Adrienne’s sister Joyce Dozier died in 2014 at the age of 42. She lived the last several years of her life in the Harvins’ home, bedridden and requiring 24-hour care after a heart attack. A year later, Adrienne suffered a brain hemorrhage and lost use of the right side of her body.

“When I came to rehab, they were like, ‘Well, you know what?’” Adrienne said. ““Our hope is that you can go to the bathroom yourself and get in and out of your wheelchair.’”

Determined to care for her children and not to burden her mother with the care of her only other child, Adrienne fought her way through rehabilitation. When her therapist had openings in her schedule, she took the slots herself.

“My therapist was, like, ‘Adrienne, slow down,’” she said.

At first unable to move, let alone speak or write, she walked out of Palmetto Health Tuomey hospital in Sumter three months later, aided only by a cane. She still has times where her brain works faster than her mouth, but she is back at her job as a Sprint store manager. A wheelchair that she blessedly does not need remains in their home.

“We’re just grateful that we’re still here, and able to see some things and experience some things,” Pressley Jr. said. “So we don’t complain. We just do what we have to do.”

That includes the sacrifices made to ensure that their son had access to coaching and competitions to improve his chances at a football scholarship. They took him to his first camp in Atlanta after his freshman season at Sumter High, which earned him a spot in an invitation-only national camp held by Kohl’s Kicking Camps in Wisconsin.

The Harvins drove 19 hours to Wisconsin, a commitment that Pressley III rewarded by beating the best punting prospects in the country. A rising sophomore, he became the first non-senior to emerge the top-ranked punter since the camp was started in 2000, according to Anthony Giugliano, a Kohl’s instructor and Harvin’s private coach in South Carolina.

Harvin won it again the next summer, becoming the first two-time winner of the event. Giugliano said that Harvin has “an incredible amount of leg strength” and underrated leg speed. Harvin brings linebacker size (6-foot-0, 240 pounds) and strength to the position. In May, he finished second in the shot put (55 feet, 4 inches) and fourth in the discus (165-8) in the South Carolina state high-school track meet in the state’s largest classification.

“He’s just got God-given ability,” Giugliano said. “It’s something you can’t really teach.”

He’s had it awhile. The Harvins remember when Pressley was playing soccer at 6 or 7 and teammates and parents had already become well aware of his leg strength. In one game, Pressley — whom the family calls Tré — lined up to take a kick and his father and others tried to warn another dad, who was coaching on the field, to clear out of the way. He waved them off.

“And Tré kicks the ball and, blam!” Pressley Jr. said. “And he just goes straight back. ‘Oh, I’m OK.’ ‘No, you aren’t OK. You aren’t OK.’ Nose bleeding and everything. ‘Man, we tried to tell you.’”

The family’s Christian faith shapes the way it sees Pressley III’s talent.

“It’s God’s gift,” Adrienne said. “That leg is God’s gift. And he’s just borrowing it. He’s just borrowing that gift, and he’s got to take care of it. My thing is, opportunity is only an opportunity if you take advantage of it. So if you don’t take advantage of your opportunities, then it’s wasted. It’s wasted.”

Pressley III has sought to develop it. From the time he earned the Kohl’s invitation at the end of his freshman year, he has spent hundreds of hours practicing his form, sometimes at the high school and sometimes in the backyard. The Harvins live on an 11-acre plot that is surrounded by family. The backyard stretches perhaps 125 yards, a space where he can kick and either his mother or his brother will shag balls. He has become an expert on his form.

When he mishits a ball, he said, “I know exactly what happened when it hits my foot.”

His parents’ perspective has changed his own.

“Everybody knows that (God) gives you a certain gift that you’re good at and that a lot of other people can’t do,” Pressley III said. “So that’s really what I think about because a lot of other people can’t go and kick a football like I can.”

He has the potential to be a field-flipping weapon for the Jackets, perhaps one who can match the standard set by Tech great Durant Brooks.

“I won’t say he’s the best punter we’ve seen, but he’s definitely right up there,” Giugliano said.

Tech is a long way from Alcolu, an unincorporated community of about five square miles with a population of 429, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. It’s in the central part of South Carolina, about 50 miles east of Columbia.

The Harvins describe Alcolu as fields and churches. Indeed, there’s a small church at the head of the Harvins’ street, and, just a few houses down, there’s peanut and cotton fields.

“I’m proud of being from here,” Pressley III said. “This is where I was born and raised.”

As he takes the next step in his journey, he’ll seek to be a faithful steward of a scholarship, a powerful right leg and a rare opportunity. If he needs any reminders of his mission, he can think back to a home on Brogdon Road, where an unused wheelchair and a well-used dialysis machine and the mother and father they belong to speak an exhortation that needs no words.

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