Decision weighs on Warriors' star

  • Follow High school

A.J. Harmon prefers Soulja Boy over Jimmy Buffett. But even he can take heart in the words of a Parrothead classic.

Back | Next
Jefferson County senior A.J. Harmon has a tough decision to make. He has to decide between going to play for Clemson or for Georgia.  Morris News Service
Morris News Service
Jefferson County senior A.J. Harmon has a tough decision to make. He has to decide between going to play for Clemson or for Georgia.

Come Monday, it'll be all right.

"That's when all the big stuff should be over," he said. "My head is swirling. A lot of stuff about my football team trying to win its first playoff game Friday. And then I've got three days to figure out where I will go play football."

Jefferson County will play host to Early County in the first round of the Georgia High School Association Class AA playoffs tonight. Harmon will go to Clemson on Saturday. Then he'll lean on a circle of advisors to decide whether or not he's going to wear orange and purple or red and black.

The decision is as huge as his 6-foot-6, 320-pound frame.

"It's the biggest decision he will ever make in his life for sure," said Shirley Harmon, his mother.

The Bulldogs went from second to first after a visit to Athens for the blackout win against Auburn. First love Clemson gets a last chance to sway his mind.

A.J. Harmon said the Clemson-or-Georgia decision takes up at least 10 minutes of every hour of his life right now.

"What a decision," said James Harmon, his father. "Two great schools and teams. I don't think anyone in his family has ever had to make a decision like that."

His parents are part of a group whose counsel he will lean on to decide his future. That group includes coach J.B. Arnold, girlfriend Danielle Broadus and Jefferson County principal Dr. Molly Howard.

"I've come home too many times to see my mom and my dad dead tired," he said. "I've got big goals. I want to take care of them when I go pro. I want to buy them both a big house. I don't want them to have to go to work again."

He is rated by every online recruiting site among the Top 75 players in America. Rivals.com rates him as the nation's top offensive guard even though he'd never played or practiced that position until this month.

Clemson and Georgia treasure his services so much that they will allow him to play the defensive tackle spot he prefers instead.

Big goals

Most will cringe to learn of Harmon's pro plans. They would advise he needs to have a back-up plan in case football doesn't work out.

"I know that," he said. "But I can't see me doing anything but football. I don't see driving a truck. I don't see myself in business. All I see is football."

Those that know him best are not so quick to judge.

"That's a huge dream," Arnold said. "But it's a good thing. Instead of living day-to-day like so many ignorant or poverty-stricken people, he has set a goal and works his tail off every day in practice and the weight room to try to reach it. I think that's great. I really do."

Harmon had to repeat the second grade. He has been diagnosed with a learning disability. He recently got the 830 on his SAT to open the door to a college education with a grade point average that hovers around the 2.5 range.

"Repeating second grade was embarrassing," Harmon said. "I'm okay to say it. But it taught me the importance of the classroom. I won't say I had it all figured out then, but I've known how important grades are ever since."

Football has also been an outlet for a young man to channel his frustration for having to bear down each day at school.

"One thing people don't understand about me is I like to jump up and down and work myself up," Harmon said. "People think I'm crazy. But I use my imagination to pump myself up. People might think I'm trying to act up for attention, but all I am doing is stoking up a fire in me as fuel that I use to play the very best I can. I play better when I let my emotions out."

Some lean on athletic gifts to provide a future in a sport they don't love. Not Harmon.

"That kid lives football and breathes it with every ounce of his body," Arnold said. "Lots of people play it. Not many love it the way that A.J. does. I'd say very few.

Arnold said he was physically ready to play big-time college football after his sophomore year.

Drawbacks

Being one of the top prep lineman in the Southeast isn't all it is cracked up to be.

Shirley Harmon works as a transfer sergeant at Washington State Prison in Davisboro. She said she can't go a day without someone asking her about it.

"If I had a dollar for every time I've been asked where he's going, I could already retire," she said.

Harmon estimates she's received at least 1,000 pieces of recruiting mail for her son.

"He gets at least 10 letters a day," she said.

The Harmon phone rings off the hook at night with college coaches selling their school.

"I can't talk on the home phone without having it click over with an incoming call," she said.

Harmon's face has been downloaded more times than anyone can count. It has led to a budding celebrity. One things that makes James Harmon proud is how his son handles all that attention.

"No matter where I go, all I hear about is his manners and how well he treats people," James Harmon said. "If I come to the school, all the teachers and kids and janitors will tell me how much respect he has for people. That means a lot."

But there are a lot of times people call his name, and he has no idea who the voices belong to.

"You walk past people that know you but you don't know them," Harmon said. "They say 'Hey A.J.' then they are like 'Why can't you speak? Do you have the big head now.' It gets to me. I try to never treat a person different than anyone else. I don't like that."

But the bottom line covers it.

"You have to say it is all worth it," Shirley Harmon said. "That's a college education that comes along with all this attention."

Ready to order

Harmon plays both sides like a political vet. He wore red Georgia shorts at practice Tuesday. Those shorts were worn over the top of another pair on extended loan from Georgia senior center Fernando Velasco. Velasco graduated from Jefferson County in 2003.

But underneath those shorts were another pair of orange Clemson shorts with "A.J. 75" written on the white school logo.

It's what a few of the assistants on the Jefferson County team refer to as sending "mixed signals."

He has gone to Georgia games this fall in Bulldogs' gear, but with a Clemson belt buckle underneath an untucked white Georgia T-shirt.

Harmon's got no problem with commitment. His four-year relationship to Broadus says that.

Truth be told, he's got it made with either. He was happy with the prettiest girl in town in Clemson. But then he couldn't help looking at the prettiest in the next town.

"I'm looking at it as the choice between two beautiful girls," Harmon said. "I'm going to choose the one that can cook the best and treat me the best."

Velasco played host to Harmon in Athens on Saturday. It was interesting what was for dinner.

"I love rice and chicken and hot sauce," Harmon said. "Let's just say after the game Fernando had some rice and chicken and hot sauce waiting on me. Georgia is tasting pretty good to me right now. Let's say it like that."

Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or jeff.sentell@augustachronicle.com.


Top headlines

Disc golf tournament benefits Augusta charity

APPLING — When Paul Childs runs a disc golf tournament, he wants it to mean something for the rest of the community. Childs he found a cause worth supporting: the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Search Augusta jobs