FOXBORO – Until the narrative changes, N’Keal Harry remains one of the Patriots’ biggest mysteries.
The interest in Harry was significant before an ankle injury that was sustained during the preseason resulted in a compelling case of out of sight, but not out of mind. From fans to media alike, the clamoring was there to see how the first wide receiver drafted by the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era would be able to gel with Tom Brady.
With Harry, it’s still a matter of scratching the surface. The answers have only started to reveal themselves.
Until the 2019 first-round pick does something noteworthy on the field – Sunday’s 4:25 p.m. kickoff at Gillette Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys will mark only Harry’s second game since being activated from injured reserve – it’s probably best to put stock in individuals who either have a history with Harry prior to his arrival in New England, or have watched him closely leading up to the NFL Draft.
Enter Shaun Aguano, who coached Harry at Arizona’s Chandler High School, and Tim Tebow, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who works for ESPN as a college football analyst. In interest of full disclosure, the interviews with Aguano and Tebow took place prior to Harry landing on IR in the early September with the promise of being dusted off once the Patriots felt the time was right to add him to the 53-man roster.
Without further ado, let’s commence with Operation: Get to Know N’Keal Harry.
Aguano coached Harry during his junior and senior years at the high-school level but knew him well in advance of his first day at Chandler.
“He was in the same track club as my kids,” said Aguano.
It was the fall of 2014 when Aguano could officially say that he was Harry’s football coach.
“I would get together with my coaches and ask, ‘How do we get the ball to him all the time?’” was Aguano’s immediate takeaway based off his first impression of Harry on the gridiron. “We knew he was going to be double- and triple-teamed, but that’s why it was so important to line him up in spots where he would be so successful.”
Aguano wasn’t in the stands for many of N’Keal Harry’s basketball games at Chandler High.
The one game Aguano watched in person … let’ just say Harry put on a show.
“The one game I saw, he ripped down the rim. He was a man among boys,” said Aguano, who these days coaches the running backs at Arizona State, where Harry made waves as a college player.
On the basketball court, Harry was a fearless guard who was never shy when it came to rebounding. His often successful attempts to gain separation from would-be defenders on the hardwood carried over to the football field when lining up at receiver and seeking to out-fox members of the secondary.
“The fast twitch he had helped him a ton. Him being able to contort his body and make plays on the football field was a direct correlation of what happened on the court,” said Aguano, who never pigeonholed Harry as a big target down the field based on his measurements (6-foot-4, 225 pounds).
“He moved around on the outside and we also put him inside. We let him touch the ball on sweeps so he was also a ball carrier. We even played him on defense as a linebacker,” said Aguano. “We knew we could throw the ball up and he would come down with 99 percent of those 50-50 balls. It’s hard not to see someone with his size and tell him to go get it.
“He was bigger and stronger than everyone else and as a result, the technique of running crisp and precise routes can go out the window. His range of catching a football is incredible, but he got a lot better running routes at the collegiate level,” Aguano added.
There would be text-message exchanges after each of Harry’s games at ASU – Aguano was hired by the Sun Devils after the 2018 season.
“The conversations I would have with N’Keal would have centered on making sure he was doing the right things all the time and competing at a high level,” said Aguano, noting he still remains very close with Harry’ grandmother Felna, who played a key role in N’Keal’s upbringing.
In terms of Harry’s landing spot in the NFL, Aguano felt his former charge couldn’t have walked into a better situation.
“To be around someone [Brady] who’s a role model and such a professional at that level … to help him mature and learn as a football player and a person, N’Keal needed that,” said Aguano. “I know the expectations the Patriots have for him will help him tremendously, but he needs to make sure he competes and works hard every single day.”
When Tebow flipped on the tapes in advance of sizing up Harry’s NFL potential, there was plenty to get excited about.
“He’s a physical presence and is talented. His ability to go up and get balls is something that can definitely translate. He’s definitely a unique weapon,” said Tebow, his assessment of Harry coming this past summer when he came to McCoy Stadium as an outfielder with the Triple-A Syracuse Mets. “Tom does such a great job of putting his guys in a position to succeed based on what they do well and I think the same will hold true with N’Keal.”
Until real tangible results emerge from the darkroom regarding Harry, it’s best to heed what folks like Aguano and Tebow are saying.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03