LEXINGTON - J.D. Harmon hopes he's found the right balance.
Saying he focused too much on football his first year, the Kentucky sophomore lost his eligibility due to poor grades. He hopes his countless hours studying since then will raise his GPA enough for him to regain his eligibility, earn a football scholarship and possibly start this fall.
"I'm praying for it," said Harmon, a 6-foot-2, 192-pound cornerback who had 11 interceptions and 32 touchdowns his senior season at Paducah Tilghman.
He didn't receive a scholarship offer for his freshman season - he was grayshirted, or asked to pay to attend school before later earning a scholarship - but he showed potential. He appeared in all 12 games in 2012 - starting three - and made a team-high two interceptions.
His focus on football, however, meant he couldn't play last fall.
"It became my main priority," Harmon said. "I was playing so much I kind of just was stuck on football, football, football. I lost track of the student part of it. I slacked off in class a little bit, and it put me in a hole. It hit me pretty hard."
If losing his eligibility hadn't, the ensuing phone call from his mother, Valerie George, would've. She called him by his full name, a sign, Harmon says, he's in trouble.
"I was disappointed because I knew he could do better," George said. "He always made good grades. It did surprise me a whole lot because I'm not used to him having bad grades."
Harmon, who said he's majoring in communications with a business focus, centered his days this past year around his schoolwork. He attended classes for hours in the morning, ate lunch and studied for a few hours before going to practice. After a shower, Harmon went back to studying.
He credits the Wildcat coaching staff for helping him. Harmon said his position coach, Derrick Ansley, and his tutors would group text to follow Harmon's progress.
If Harmon's eligible, he could be a vital member of the Wildcat secondary. The group nabbed just three interceptions, none from cornerbacks, in 12 games in 2013. The three interceptions tied for fewest at the FBS level.
"He has a hunger to get back in the playing rotation," Ansley said. "He has a lot of athletic ability, which gives him a lot of room for growth and improvement. J.D. transitioned well to spring practice. (I) saw a fire in him, a desire to get better."
Harmon expects to learn in late summer whether he's regained his eligibility and earned a scholarship. But he's already learned to balance football and academics.
"You have to make sure you have your priorities straight," Harmon said. "I had mine in the incorrect order. Now, school's first. It lets you know it can be taken away from you that fast and can be given to you that fast. You just have to take opportunities and roll with it."
Call Daniel Paulling, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8662, or follow on Twitter @DanielPaulling.
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