(Photo of Tyler Harrell via Twitter)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In the first three years of his collegiate career, Louisville wide receiver Tyler Harrell did not see the field much. He found himself buried on the depth chart, appearing in just two games for both the 2018 and 2019 seasons, before not seeing game action in 2020. In fact, the only offensive stats to his name are a pair of receptions for 36 yards, all coming in Louisville's 2018 blowout 66-31 loss to Georgia Tech.
But following the 2020 campaign, an opportunity presented itself: Louisville's star receiving tandem in Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick were both heading to the NFL. As the offseason progressed, and receivers Christian Fitzpatrick and Nick Malito both entered the transfer portal, the opportunity to finally make that jump was loud and clear.
"I realized last year after our last game, knowing that Tutu and Dez are going to the league," Harrell said when asked when he realized he would be a major factor for the 2021 season. "I knew somebody had to step up to the table, so this is my chance to step up."
But just because the chance to see meaningful playing time is only now presenting itself, doesn't mean Harrell hasn't been grinding while he waits. In his first three years at Louisville, he spent that time being a student of the game, perfecting every minute detail.
"Just learn. Keep learning the plays, be consistent and just know the little things about yourself on the field that you can improve on," he said. "Timing is everything, so I always focus every year like it was my last. I just keep working hard until I had that chance."
Last season, Atwell and Fitzpatrick accounted for 1,458 of Louisville's 2,686 receiving yards, and 10 of their 20 receiving touchdowns. With all those reps and targets now free for the taking, Harrell saw this as a clear opportunity for a breakout campaign in his redshirt sophomore year.
"That's very motivating knowing that's something I have to step up. So you're gonna work hard every second, every hour, to improve yourself to perform during the season."
Despite losing over half their receiving production, Harrell believes that Louisville has "talent in every aspect of the receiver core", and specifically highlights Josh Johnson, Justin Marshall, Braden Smith and Shai Werts. He also has seen a noticeable improvement in quarterback Malik Cunningham.
"(Malik)'s throwing the ball real well," Harrell said. "He's a hard working man. He always motivates, great attitude, always throws after practices and stuff like that."
As for Harrell himself, Louisville very well could be getting their next great speed threat. At the Cardinals' Pro Day earlier this year, his fastest 40-yard dash was a 4.24, and he also sported a hand-timed 4.19 mark. But if you ask Harrell, speed isn't his only calling card.
"They're going to see a great route runner, good hands and good getting off the ball, getting off the line, and great blocking," he said. "Hard working, fast temp and great effort every play."
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