For most of its existence, Alcolu’s chief export was lumber.
The small hamlet in west-central South Carolina began as a mill town in the late 19th century for employees of D.W. Alderman, a local timber magnate. Ribbons of railroad tracks still crisscross through the pines there, clacking with commerce from all corners of the state. The town takes its quirky name – it’s pronounced AL-co-lu – from a portmanteau of Alderman (“Al”); his business partner and brother-in-law, Colwell (“Co”); and his oldest daughter, Lula (“Lu”).
With a population of 429 as of the 2010 census, Alcolu isn’t quite a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town. But it’s not far off.
Lately, though, Alcolu has become known for another prized export: nuclear, cannon-legged punts.
For that it can thank native son Pressley Harvin III, Georgia Tech’s senior punter who has left coaches, teammates and opposing players in awe over his massive, field-flipping kicks. And on Thursday, Harvin’s booming leg took him from small-town Alcolu to the highest honor for his position, winning the 2020 Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter.
“Every year, statistically as well as mentally, I continued to get better and better, and this year was definitely kind of a cherry on top for me,” said Harvin, who joins Durant Brooks (2007) as Georgia Tech’s only winners of the Ray Guy Award.
It caps a clean sweep of awards season for the senior, who earned first-team All-America honors from the Associated Press, AFCA, Football Writers Association of America and Sporting News. In also being named a Walter Camp All-American Thursday, he becomes Georgia Tech’s third unanimous All-American, joining Calvin Johnson (2006) and Ken Swilling (1990).
VIDEO: Pressley Harvin III highlights
“I couldn’t be happier for him. Big personality, big leg. What he’s meant to this program, even since we’ve been here, [it’s] just awesome. I wish him the absolute best. I’m so proud of him,” said head coach Geoff Collins.
His statistics this year left little doubt that the Ray Guy Award would be his. Despite battling injury over the second half of the season, Harvin led the nation with an average of 48.0 yards per punt. It not only shattered a Georgia Tech record held by Rodney Williams since 1997, it broke the ACC’s single-season record. Twenty-two of his 45 punts sailed 50 yards or more, including a career-long 70-yard nuke against UCF on September 19.
And Harvin admits it was a mis-hit.
“I knew the wind was behind me, so I knew the ball would carry. I got the fortunate roll right after the 40-yard line or so,” he recalled.
Collins doesn’t want fans to overlook his prowess on precision kicks, either.
“He’s done both of those things – booming the big ones, but then the directional punt game that he’ll have to do at the next level and the pooch punt game – he’s been tremendous, and those are unselfish things that he’s brought to the team,” he said.
The Ray Guy Award is also a fulfillment of the high expectations that followed Harvin to The Flats when he signed with Georgia Tech in February 2017. At Sumter High School in Sumter, S.C., Harvin led the state in punting as a junior and senior and came to Tech as the No. 2-ranked punter in the nation according to Kohl’s Kicking Camps. And yet, little of his background seems conventional for a major-college punter. Alcolu itself is an unlikely incubator: by Harvin’s account, his hometown has an Exxon station, a post office, a volunteer fire department, and little else. Most punters begin as soccer players; Harvin said he stopped playing the sport at age six. He took up punting in seventh grade, when his team had open tryouts and no one else wanted to give it a shot. He still primarily played center and tight end.
He began taking the craft seriously in ninth grade – as he told The Athletic’s Andy Staples, he and his Mom determined that his best path for earning a Division I football scholarship would be as a specialist. He didn’t have the size to project as a lineman, nor the speed to project as a tight end. From that point on, he was all in on punting.
“It was a hard decision at first. I had a couple coaches who told me [I] have a decent size to be a tight end or fullback, but I thought about it with my Mom. My Mom was also one of my first coaches in punting. She told me no matter what you want to go down, whatever route, stick with it and we’ll make the opportunities happen for you along the way,” he recalls.
“From that moment back in my freshman year, it definitely sparked something in me that I can do this.”
At 6-0 and 255 pounds, Harvin never had the traditional, rangy frame of a punter. Then again, not many punters finish second in the shot put at the South Carolina high school track and field championships, competing in the state’s largest classification (55 feet, 4 inches, if you’re curious).
Collins remembers being taken aback by his physique at their first team meeting.
“I shake his hand and he told me he was the punter. I still remember the look and feel of disbelief that I had. He was like, ‘Coach, I’m your punter.’ And I’m like, “Come on, man,’” he recalled.
“There’s a couple of meetings, first impressions, first meetings, that I’ll never forget. And Pressley Harvin was definitely one of those meetings. I thought he was the middle linebacker. When he told me he was the punter, I was astounded,” he added.
He would be astounded most by the size of his punts. A four-year starter, Harvin became Georgia Tech’s first freshman to earn all-ACC honors since Calvin Johnson. He earned second team all-ACC honors as a sophomore despite Tech attempting the third-fewest punts in the nation. He added to his legend as a junior by unleashing a perfectly spiraled, 41-yard touchdown pass to Nathan Cottrell on a fake punt against Miami (proving that though retired from shot putting, he still had plenty of arm strength).
VIDEO: Pressley Harvin III reacts to punting lesson by Bobby Dodd (2019)
It’s not just the huge punts – or long throws – that made Harvin stand out. He’s an accomplished musician who can play several different instruments. He’s a self-taught gearhead who drives a souped-up 2015 Dodge Dart he nicknamed “Bad Blacktop,” with customizations he installed himself. With its multicolor paint job and extensive decals, including his Instagram handle on the spoiler, it may be the most recognizable car on the Georgia Tech campus next to the Wreck.
The man is no one-kick pony.
Harvin also managed to achieve a rare kind of punter popularity. Take a scroll on a fall Saturday and you’d inevitably find the tweets. “Georgia Tech’s punter is an absolute unit”… “Georgia Tech’s punter is my favorite new college football player”… “That punter is thicc”… With his tiny shoulder pads, rolled-up pants, and burly, sui generis physique, Harvin became a favorite of the college football Internet. Every time the Yellow Jackets appeared on national television, more college football fans would discover Pressley Harvin III. And every time, they couldn’t stop tweeting their fascination with him.
Harvin says he appreciated all the screen shots and witty captions. He got a chuckle out of his folk hero status with the social media commentariat – knowing, of course, that it ultimately brought more attention to his punting skills.
“It’s humbling. It’s been a lot of hard work to be able to get to where I am, and finally getting people to open their eyes,” he said.
VIDEO: Pressley Harvin III's 64-yard punt at Syracuse (Sept. 26, 2020)
He also doesn’t mind saying the quiet part out loud: he’s Black, and there simply aren’t many major-college punters who look like him. He recalls attending a national Kohl’s Kicking Camp in Wisconsin in high school and only seeing a couple other Black specialists. In winning the Ray Guy Award, Harvin became the first African-American to take home the honor.
He acknowledges that Williams, a member of the Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame whose school record he just broke, paved the way for him as an African-American punter at Tech. Harvin says the two have shared conversations over Instagram; Williams told him that when barriers are put up, they’re meant to be broken. Harvin hopes that winning the Ray Guy Award will inspire others to chase success at a position that hasn’t historically been held by people of color.
“To be able to say I’m the first one to win the Ray Guy, I definitely am pleased with that. But I know I’m not going to be the last and I think that’s the best part about that,” Harvin said. He’s already started to see an effect in his hometown: after graduating from Sumter High, he noted that there have been “three to four different African-American specialists” who have come after him.
Like all seniors, Harvin had the option of returning for an extra year. He’ll instead take his mountain of trophies, a bounty that now includes the Ray Guy Award, and begin preparing for the NFL Draft.
Alcolu, S.C., has never put a player in the NFL. Harvin wasn’t aware of that until an interview earlier this year.
“I haven’t thought about it. I’d think it would happen or sooner or later,” he said.
After a record-setting – and now award-winning – career at Georgia Tech, Pressley Harvin III may be the Guy to change that.