As he prepares for the 2022 NFL Draft, Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Mike Harley Jr. wants to make an impact. But it’s not just an on-field impact he’s interested in leaving. After all, every football player wants to do that. He’s left his mark on the University of Miami as the program leader in career receptions and hopes to have similar success at the NFL level. However, there’s more to the word “impact” for the diminutive playmaker.
Mike Harley looks to make an impact in the 2022 NFL Draft
“I’m the type of kind of guy who will come into the locker room and try my best to change it,” Harley tells me of the impact he wants to make in the NFL during a recent sitdown with Pro Football Network. “I want to impact other people’s lives.
“I’m the type of guy that can change a locker room,” the Miami wide receiver reiterates. “One guy can change a village, and I feel like I can walk in a locker room and have a positive impact on people’s lives. I’m that type of athlete.”
Not only does Harley want to provide a locker room impact, but he also wants to set an example for players that are just like him. By getting his foot in the NFL door, he’d send a message for all those sub-6-feet wide receivers that are overlooked, underrated, and don’t earn the recognition that they believe that they should.
“I want to be a motivation and inspiration to the kids back home. And a lot of guys who are going to be in my position. The undersized guys, the sleepers. Doing everything that folks said that I can’t.”
Setting an example for young Floridians and family members
Back home. For Harley, that’s South Florida. While he spent some time at high school in Georgia, he’s a South Florida kid. It’s an environment that’s extremely talent-rich and produces an incredibly high amount of NFL Draft selections. But Harley isn’t blinded by the light of success. He knows that just as many kids don’t make it out to fulfill their dreams as those that do. He wants to prove that you can make it.
Harley also knows that for every person like him that finishes school — he graduated from Miami this last year — there are several that don’t.
While we talk about his football excellence and locker room contributions, one of the things that impresses me most about Harley is that he’s once again proving that he can overcome established obstacles in his path.
“That was huge,” Harley says. “I’m first generation, both on my Mom and Dad’s side. I’m setting a standard for my future kids, my son that’s here, my siblings. Motivating folks around my area. Where I come from, a lot of people don’t finish school. When things get hard, they quit. I’m really being that motivator to show you can be the first person to do it. That really means a lot to me.”
Harley’s path to the NFL Draft begins with his namesake
Some 20 years before Roger Goodell puts the Jacksonville Jaguars on the clock to open the 2022 NFL Draft, Harley was already being crafted for this moment. The second of his name, the future Hurricanes wide receiver had a fatherly influence guiding him towards his football journey and cultivated a love for the sport at a young age.
“My pops, Mike Harley Sr., played high school football and got a couple of scholarship offers but decided to stay at home. It came from him, got my genes from him. Growing up, I probably didn’t have a toy or a pacifier because I had a football. That’s been my dream every step ever since.”
Unbelievably for a wide receiver of 5’11” and 180 pounds, Harley was a nose tackle early in his football journey. He made the switch to quarterback, playing the position until high school, where he made the permanent move to pass catcher. All the way through that journey, his father helped with advice. Some of those words are echoed in Harley’s approach to the game and his off-field desire to be a leader.
“My Dad was my first coach. He’s always telling me to stay humble. He always told me to be the hardest worker, be respectful, and you’ll go a long way. I’ve carried that for 20 years, and now I’m here. Keep grinding hard, keep God first, and keep pushing through it all.”
Family environment helps Harley battle adversity
As he prepares for the NFL Draft, with his desire to blaze a path for under-the-radar prospects, Harley draws on his own ability to overcome adversity and battle back against the odds. That adversity has come on the field, with him experiencing a setback early in his time at St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
“I transferred my sophomore year, ended up getting cut from the team. That was my first adversity that hit. I’d never been cut before, I’m a talented guy. A lot of guys don’t hit adversity until they get to the top. I hit that adversity when I was down at the bottom. I just learned how to trust the process and keep pushing through, learned perseverance so that when I got to college and faced battles, it was nothing new.”
Football adversity was accompanied by family adversity. Harley lost one of his best friends at a young age to a motorcycle accident. He also tells me about living in a motel with 14 family members for three months when the family faced some hardship. Those times have provided mental fortitude and resilience. Having established himself at St. Thomas Aquinas, his on-field family became a brotherhood of support.
“That summer when I was going through a lot, they had my back,” Harley says. “Guys like Elijah Moore plays for the New York Jets. Him and his uncle took me in, helped me out, gave me money and groceries for the family. We built a big brotherhood bond, and that was one of my best years at St. Thomas.”
Harley shines on the biggest stage in high school football
While his NFL future is yet to be determined, nothing short of footballing excellence is the standard at St. Thomas. One of the most prestigious high schools in the nation, you have to truly shine to ensure that you make it out and live up to your potential. The easiest way to do that is to perform on the biggest stage — the state championship. Harley shares a story of how important that one game was to establishing himself.
“A lot of alumni that went there are in the NFL, went to Division I colleges. One of them texted me, quarterback John O’Korn who won a state championship there, he texted me, and he was like, ‘A lot of guys, like me and you need to be remembered. The only way to go out and be remembered as a legend, they have their best game in the state championship.’ I still have that screenshot on my phone.
“Next thing you know, I had like 4 catches, 3 touchdowns, 100 and something yards. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy,’ because now you have kids looking up Mike Harley on YouTube, and one of the top videos you’ll see is me in high school dominating my state championship game, going out legendary.”
A four-star recruit amongst five-stars, Harley remained humble throughout his recruiting process. Initially driven to West Virginia by their history of exciting offenses incorporating talents like Tavon Austin, the prestige and proximity to family ensured that the Miami Hurricanes would land a wide receiver who would go on to earn legendary status in his own right for the program.
Breaking records at the University of Miami
While most true freshmen don’t make an impact immediately, Harley was able to establish himself early in his career for the Hurricanes. While the statistics were meager, he saw playing time in seven games in 2017 and eight in 2018. However, in a test of his perseverance, his first touchdown didn’t come until a game against Bethune-Cookman in 2019. It was the catalyst to a breakout game against Louisville later in the year.
“I’m not a superstitious guy, but I was like, ‘I’m gonna have a good game this game.’ I spoke it into existence. Then it started raining. A lot of guys worry about what they can’t control, but I was like, ‘I’m just going to worry about what I can control when the ball comes my way,’ and had like 3 catches for 50 yards that opening drive. Then the sun started coming out, and in my head, I was like, ‘The storm is finally over. Now it’s my time to shine.'”
Over the next two seasons, Harley established himself as a dangerous threat and a go-to guy in the Miami offense. Heading into his final game as a Hurricane, he had Reggie Wayne’s program record for receptions within his grasp. Although he says he never thought about being a record-breaker coming into the program in 2017, it’s clear that achieving the mark means a lot to the diminutive pass catcher.
“Coach Lashlee was telling me all week, ‘We’re gonna get you that record!’ I actually broke the record in the first quarter, and it felt normal. It really didn’t hit me, even to this day. Playing my last game ever at Miami, breaking two records, that was legendary. Everything that I went through, that was for that moment right there.”
From Miami to the Hula Bowl, Harley enters the NFL Draft process
Despite sharing the wide receiver room with Charleston Rambo — a player he describes as a “brother” who he “pushed to be his best self” — Harley attracted enough attention with his 2,158 career receiving yards and 15 touchdowns to be invited to the Hula Bowl college all-star game. While it might not be considered one of the top three games in the all-star cycle, Harley recognizes the importance of his appearance there.
“That was a huge week for me. Going out there, being a top performer day in, day out. Going to every practice and showing the NFL that I’m very versatile. The team I was playing for had me start at outside receiver, which is great because I have a lot of inside experience in the slot. It showed scouts that I can play both.
“Mismatches in the slot. I can win on safeties, and nickels, and linebackers. Outside, if you isolate me one on one, I’m gonna win. I can create separation on deep balls. Come through on third downs with my route running. Returning punts, showing I can work on special teams. Waking everyone back up, I’m ready for whatever.”
Waking everyone up, Harley is ready to do what it takes to get to the NFL
“That’s huge,” Harley proclaims when asked about bringing special-teams experience and versatility. “As of right now, the mock drafts have me projected low, so special teams will be huge for me to even touch the field, get an opportunity to play. Returning, being a gunner, anything like that. Whatever a team needs, I’m the type of guy who you can throw out there and help you win.”
The Miami wide receiver has been working out with NFL star Stefon Diggs, honing his skill set ahead of the NFL Draft. He’s also been working with a famous wide receiver coach in Dallas. He’s faced trials and tribulations throughout his football journey, matching adversity with a will to succeed. There’s no reason to believe the next step in Harley’s journey won’t match that intensity and desire.
“I’m the type of guy that just puts his head down and works. All I need is the opportunity. If you crack the door open, I’m going to break it down.”