PITTSBURGH — Pressley Harvin III knows he has to put together a better year as the Steelers’ punter in 2022. After he became the first Black punter to win the Ray Guy Award for the best punter in college football in 2020, Harvin was selected by the Steelers as a seventh round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
He beat out veteran punter Jordan Berry, but didn’t have a strong season. He was inconsistent in his punts and averaged only 42.6 yards per punt on the season. That ranked 33rd among 36 NFL punters last season.
Harvin’s rookie season also came with two tragedies of losing his father and his grandmother in a span of six days in December of 2021. Harvin’s father’s health was fading during that fall and passed away just days after watching Harvin start in the Steelers’ 19-13 win over the Titans on Dec. 19. He passed away the next day, and then Harvin’s mother on Christmas morning.
But at Steelers’ minicamp, Harvin says he draws strength from them as he prepares for his second season.
“It’s a different normal now,” Harvin said Thursday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “I miss my two angels to death. There’s a lot of other angels I have to, but that put me in the position where I am today. I’m the man I am today because of them. I wish it was a different way, but you have to move forward. But I have those two angels on my back and I know they’re looking down on me all the time. I know they’re completely taken care of, so I’m at peace with that.”
Going through that kind of adversity wasn’t easy, but Harvin was thankful for the resources provided by the Steelers during those days.
“It was tough,” Harvin said. “Especially with that happening my rookie season, it wasn’t easy. But we have a really good support team here. That really helped me process a lot. I never thought my rookie year would’ve went that way. But God makes everything happen for a reason, he makes no mistakes. I have to stay positive.”
The biggest thing Harvin has to do now is to stay focused on his job. It’s been a big part of his training.
“It’s an 80 to 20 percent thing for me,” Harvin said when asked if his training was more mental than physical. “This game is all mental at some points. Especially as a specialist, you only have the opportunity to produce in one moment. So you need that mental aspect every time you play. I try to get mental reps even when I’m not punting. I think about seeing the field and where I can put the ball, things like that.”
Part of what Harvin has worked on in his own mental reps has been meditation. He says his biggest goal is to fell comfortable about each punt he kicks.
“I meditate a little bit,” Harvin said. “The biggest thing is when I tell myself to lock in and only thing about that football. I feel more comfortable. I feel like every single time I’m out there, I know what I need to do and I’m hungry for it.”
If you asked him, that routine has shown dividends in his practices during Steelers OTAs and minicamp over the past month.
“I’m honestly hitting the ball well,” Harvin said. “I’ve been doing a lot of hard training so far. The biggest thing I’ve worked on is to find consistency to hit my A-ball and my B-ball more often. But I’m also working on my miss-hits too. How does that C-ball look? Where does it go? I’ve been fine-tuning things and everything’s felt really good so far.”
Harvin described his A-ball as his best kick while his B-Ball and C-Ball as ones he didn’t manage to kick with his full strength. But part of his training is to make sure those punts also help the Steelers in different situations.
For his special teams coach Danny Smith, there’s confidence in Harvin to figure it out.
“It’s just consistency,” Smith said of Harvin. “He was a rookie and he went through a lot. There’s no excuses for none of it, but he’s got to mature as a player. He just has to be more consistent. He is a very powerful man and a skilled guy. Did a great job holding and really improved there. The games he played well and the games he didn’t have to level out. It’s about consistency.”
Harvin’s struggles primarily showed up later in the season. From November on, he had four games when he averaged less than 40 yards per punt. Those days came from him being too stuck on his previous mistakes that clouded his focus going into his next reps. That’s something he says Smith helped him work through during the offseason.
“The biggest thing Danny tells me is ‘it’s always the next ball,'” Harvin said of Smith. “Once you hit your last ball, you can’t control it anymore because it’s gone. So it’s always about your next punt and your next rep. If you made a mistake, take a step back, make up for it by making your next one your best one.”
The Steelers do have reasons to have faith that Harvin will figure out his game and be the punter they spent a draft pick on to acquire. When he rejoined the team after both his father and grandmother passed, Harvin put together seven punts in the Steelers’ playoff loss to the Chiefs that averaged 49.71 yards.
That’s a really good average. It’s also one that would’ve beat his 48 yards per punt average in his senior year at Georgia Tech. If Harvin can achieve that level of consistency that Smith believes and maintain that 49.7 yards per punt average, he would’ve had the second-highest rate among NFL punters.