Pressley Harvin wins Ray Guy Award as nation’s top punter

Georgia Tech punter Pressley Harvin launches a kick against Central Florida at Bobby Dodd Stadium Sept. 19, 2020.

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Georgia Tech punter Pressley Harvin launches a kick against Central Florida at Bobby Dodd Stadium Sept. 19, 2020.

His mother believes that his right leg is a gift from God. On Thursday night, Pressley Harvin’s stewardship of his talent was recognized with the highest honor he could receive as a college punter, as the Georgia Tech senior was named the winner of the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter.

“A lot of hard work has been put into being able to get to that position,” Harvin said. “To be able to even be thought about on that list, (much less) to actually win it, it’s all so humbling.”

In winning the Ray Guy Award – the two other finalists were Georgia’s Jake Camarda and Miami’s Lou Hedley – Harvin is a trailblazer. He is the first Black player to win the prize, first awarded in 2000. For various reasons, the position largely has been filled by white players.

On Thursday, Harvin recalled going to kicking camps as a high schooler from Alcolu, S.C., and being one of three or four Black specialists. He spoke also of receiving encouragement from former Tech punter Rodney Williams, another Black punter whose single-season punting-average record Harvin broke this season. He was hopeful that his prominence will be an example to others.

“To say I’m the first to win the Ray Guy, I’m definitely pleased about that, but I know I’m definitely not going to be the last, and I think that’s the best part about that,” he said.

Harvin’s mother, Adrienne, who watched ESPN’s awards show Thursday with family at the Harvins’ home in Alcolu, S.C., was naturally thrilled with the honor.

“It’s great because it’s the highest achievement a punter can actually achieve in college,” she said. “But I told him, ‘Having a record is great, but records are made to be broken. But when you make history, history is forever.’ It meant the world to us, him being the first Black to ever get this award.”

Harvin actually learned he had won Sunday, and he and his family had to keep the secret until Thursday.

While Harvin is modest about his accomplishments, his mother said, this one was different.

“This time, he was like, ‘Ma, I’m very excited this time because this is what I always wanted,’” Adrienne said. “He always wanted that Ray Guy Award. He’s got it now.”

The senior earned the honor with consistency and superior execution of his craft. In his final season, Harvin blasted high-hanging punts with regularity, giving the Tech punt team time to sprint downfield to force fair catches or limit returns.

While Harvin leads FBS in punting average (with one game remaining in the college season, he is a virtual lock to finish at No. 1) and has set Tech and ACC records with a 48.0 yards-per-punt average, perhaps the most meaningful statistic is Tech ranking No. 2 in FBS in net punting average at 44.6 yards.

“Just so proud of ‘Press,’” Tech coach Geoff Collins said. “Just how he’s done it, how he’s gone about his business, how he works every single day.”

While his play was rarely lacking in his first three seasons – he was second-team All-ACC as a sophomore in 2018 – he raised his standards this season. Dedicating himself to becoming a more consistent punter starting last offseason, Harvin deconstructed his technique, making sure all of the elements – the steps, the drop, the swing of his leg – were sound.

“I just really took advantage of the time (during the quarantine) to break all of my punting stuff down, get better step by step, put together,” he said in an interview in November. “And that hard work is really actually starting to pay off.”

He worked closely with Ryan Horton, Tech’s director of applied sports science, in going through a specialized weight training program to help him improve his flexibility and core.

“And he’s just really driven to find every single way, every single expert that can help him perfect his craft,” Collins said. “And those are examples that we try to teach at all times. And for somebody to do it, execute it, have a plan, have a vision, and then it come true, those are the things that are really special as we continue to build this program.”

Of his 45 punts, 22 went 50 yards or more, 21 were fair caught and only eight were returned, the longest for 18 yards. His punting average this season broke the records for the ACC (47.8 yards, set in 1999 by North Carolina’s Brian Schmitz) and Tech (45.6 yards, set in 1997 by Rodney Williams).

He joins Tech Hall of Famer Durant Brooks in winning the prize, first awarded in 2000. Tech becomes the second school to have separate winners, following Utah.

Moreover, Harvin was named to the first team of the Walter Camp Football Foundation’s All-America team, giving him a clean sweep of first-team honors for the five All-American teams recognized by the NCAA (the other four are the Associated Press, the American Football Coaches Association, the Football Writers Association of America and the Sporting News). He becomes just the third unanimous All-American in Tech history, joining two of the most hallowed names of players to have put on a Jackets uniform – safety Ken Swilling (1990) and wide receiver Calvin Johnson (2006).

“Being able to see my name in that record book (as a unanimous All-American) is definitely a true honor,” he said.