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ATLANTA - Percy Harvin wanted to return to the SEC championship game, where in 2006 he was named MVP in Florida’s win over Arkansas.
But not like this. Not as a spectator.
In 2006, Harvin was a do-it-all threat as he was named MVP of the championship game. Saturday he was an observer — a role he tried to avoid even in the last minutes before the Gators’ 31-20 Southeastern Conference championship victory over Alabama.
Harvin, recovering from a sprained ankle that kept him out of practice all week, obviously was not ready to play. Wearing sweat pants and his No. 1 jersey, he clearly favored the right ankle even when he was only trying to walk during the Gators’ warmups.
Even so, he said he tried to talk his way into playing.
“I came out today and still tried to go,” Harvin said. “The trainers had to grab me and say this is not good for you.”
Harvin said he also was told by his teammates that it was not necessary for him to try to play when he wasn’t close to full speed.
“My teammates said ’We’ve got you’ and I had to believe them,” said Harvin, who is expected to be ready for the Gators’ next game, which will likely be for the national championship.
Florida’s strategy was to have as many players as possible make up for the loss of Harvin. But even with star quarterback Tim Tebow delivering one of his best games, replacing Harvin was no easy task.
Harvin leads the Gators with 35 receptions for 595 yards and seven touchdowns. He is second on the team in rushing, with 538 yards and nine scores. He adds a different look by taking direct snaps and had scored at least once in 14 consecutive games — the longest streak in the nation.
With Harvin watching, Tebow threw touchdown passes to three receivers: David Nelson, Riley Cooper and Carl Moore.
Moore’s 3-yard touchdown catch on Florida’s opening possession was the first of his career. Nelson’s 5-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter was only his ninth reception of the season.
“I want Percy on the field but I’ll step in for him anytime I can,” Nelson said. “I wanted to step up for him.”
Meanwhile, freshman running back Jeff Demps had 13 carries for 53 yards, including a 1-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter that gave Florida the lead for good.
The Gators trailed before rallying in the fourth quarter as Harvin cheered from the sideline. After the team’s second SEC championship game victory in three years, Harvin joined the celebration on the field.
“My teammates did a good job keeping me up knowing how bad I wanted to play,” Harvin said.
Harvin’s injury was a big question all week, and his status remained in doubt until pregame warmups.
Florida coach Urban Meyer wanted Alabama to have to prepare for Harvin, even if he doubted the junior would play. On Friday, Meyer didn’t have Harvin with the team in the portion of practice that was open to media.
Once it was clear Harvin wouldn’t play, Meyer tried to use the injury as a motivational tool.
“It was extra motivation because I knew somebody had to step up,” Meyer said.
Meyer said the pregame decision was “a very emotional time for Percy, because two years ago he was the MVP.”
In the 2006 SEC championship game, Harvin had 105 yards rushing, 62 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
Harvin wanted an encore, but had to settle for a spectator’s role.
“I gave him a big hug, and he’s an extremely competitive guy,” Meyer said.
The MVP of Saturday’s win was Tebow, who passed for 216 yards and three touchdowns and led the team with 57 yards rushing.
Harvin and Tebow are juniors who will have an opportunity to leave school early to enter the NFL draft.
Meyer called Harvin “one of the best players in college football” and said he’s “never had one like (Tebow), and I’ve been around a long time.”
Tebow completed passes to six players.
“It’s a sign of good recruiting, a sign of good players and a sign of a good team,” said Meyer, “and that’s what we are.”
CFT: Senior receiver Wilson Van Hooser is transferring from Tulane to help care for his ailing mother.
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Video: Football from NBC Sports
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