Saturday, December 4, 2021

Illinois tailback small in height, immense in playmaking talent

October 25, 2000

His name is Rausell, but everyone calls him Rocky.

In an era when teams are constantly searching for 250-pound bruising running backs, he stands barely 5-foot-9 and weighs 186 pounds.

Although Illinois’ Rocky Harvey doesn’t always fit into conventional wisdom, he’s one of the most exciting running backs in the Big Ten.

“Everyone always used to say I was too small and everything, but I never doubted my abilities,” said the junior speedster. “Illinois stuck with me the longest and told me I could be a running back, and that’s one of the reasons I came here.”

Now, as one of two featured Illini running backs, along with sophomore Antoineo Harris, Harvey leads a struggling (3-4 overall, 1-3 in Big Ten) Illinois team into Spartan Stadium on Saturday. The Illini are coming off a disappointing 39-25 loss at Penn State on Oct. 21.

As a prep, Harvey set the Illinois High School Association rushing record with 7,395 yards and 108 touchdowns at Dunbar High School in Chicago.

Despite the records, he said most schools wanted him to be a wide receiver, and there wasn’t much attention from high profile college programs.

In 30 games for the Illini, Harvey has gained 1,931 yards with 13 touchdowns. This year, he’s run for 523 yards, an average of 5.8 yards per carry. He also has 39 catches for 347 yards.

When Harvey committed to the Fighting Illini two years ago, they were in the midst of a 0-11 season. But Harvey liked then-new head coach Ron Turner, and he wanted to help turn the program around.

“It makes me proud that I was part of the solution,” Harvey said, of an Illini team that has gone 12-7 in the last year and a half. “My class helped turned this program around.”

Spartans’ head coach Bobby Williams said Harvey’s versatility makes Illinois’ offense tough to defend.

“Rocky Harvey is an excellent tailback, and they flank him out sometimes to one of their four or five wide receivers,” Williams said.

MSU defensive coordinator Bill Miller knows what kind of problems Harvey creates for a defense.

“Rocky Harvey presents a dual threat because he runs well and he catches the ball out of the backfield,” Miller said. “He’s a very good ball carrier.”

When Illinois upset Michigan 35-29 in Ann Arbor last season, Harvey was at the center of the Illini’s miraculous 20-point second half comeback. He finished with 106 yards on the ground and a touchdown.

“That’s my favorite game of my career so far,” he said. “There’s even a picture of me diving into the end zone on a billboard now (in Champaign).”

MSU senior cornerback Renaldo Hill said it’s false to assume bigger means better when it comes to running backs.

“It’s definitely tougher to tackle the smaller guys,” Hill said. “When the little guys get behind their blockers it’s tough to even see them. Harvey is real fast so he’s tough to get a hold of.”

Harvey said his teammates often tease him about his small stature, but he doesn’t listen to them.

“It’s always the same old jokes,” he said. “They’re not funny anymore.”

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