Heath Harding was a 3-Star high school running back (247) from Dayton, Ohio and a nominee for Ohio’s Mr. Football. He had multiple scholarship offers coming out of high school but chose to attend Miami Ohio. I asked him why and he had this to say.
“As corny as this may sound, it felt like home. On my official visit, I sat down with the guys in my recruiting class and instantly they felt like brothers. We all clicked and got along and we barely knew each other.”
That unity showed despite Miami OH’s early season struggles (they lost their first six games), the team rallied to finish strong winning six straight games. The Redhawks clinched a berth in the St. Petersburg Bowl vs. Mississippi State; giving the SEC squad all they could handle.
Harding was attracted to the campus and the academic prowess of the university. When it came down to it, the choice was simple, according to Harding.
“Miami Ohio has a beautiful campus and is respected around the nation academically so it was a no brainer. Someone once gave me good advice on deciding your school. Pick one that you think you’ll enjoy whether you played football or not and Miami seemed like the logically choice.”
The choice may not have been strictly for football reasons but football is certainly working out for him. Harding entered college as a 5’10, 170 lb speed demon. “Growing up I was an offensive player. Yes, I played both sides but on defense I was just a body out there to make sure no one broke long ones.”
That all changed when he got to Miami, OH, according to Harding. “Once I arrived at Miami I was switched over to corner the safety my sophomore year then back to corner but got hurt. So honestly this past season was my second full season at corner.”
Harding has bulked up since arriving on campus, now tipping the scales at 185 lbs. For only being a true corner for two years, Harding plays like a natural. Harding had 67 total tackles, 4 interceptions, and 11 passes defensed on the year. Harding’s stat sheet landed him in the top 20 in the country among corners in both tackles and interceptions.
Harding credits his speed and toughness for the success in his game, “My biggest strength is my speed along with toughness. Given my speed I enjoy press man a lot because I believe I can run with anyone. I say toughness because I love tackling and most corners don’t. I pride myself on my ability to tackle and to not get run by.”
Harding dedicated this past season to his grandmother, who had passed away the year prior. He parlayed that motivation into some stellar play, making 1st Team All-MAC. For Harding, it was the perfect way to honor his grandmother’s memory. “It meant everything! For me, when I committed I had a series of goals that I wanted to accomplish during my time at Miami. To finally check off the All-Mac team from the list was an amazing feeling. Knowing that I’m going to go down in Miami history along with being placed on the wall is awesome. It gives me something to live up to, to strive for, and sets the bar to achieve even more.”
He found great success in 2016 but it hasn’t always been easy for Harding. In 2015, a back injury ended his season after just three games. When he was away from the game, the void was noticeable in his life.
“The hardest part was just being patient through it all. Because you miss it ya know, like all of it. The lifting, the practices, and the games and just feeling apart of the team.” But just because he couldn’t improve his game on the field doesn’t mean Harding was fully away from the game.
“(In that time) I learned how to look at the game more critically. In terms of watching film and trying to become more of a technician.” That mental approach paid off, as Harding is on scouts’ radar as an NFL prospect after this season. He enters his senior year with unfinished business.
That goal? To win the MAC Conference and play in a bowl game. Those expectations are lofty yet realistic if the team builds on their work this year. Harding oozes passion for his team and his school, which gives them a fighting chance to fulfill their aspirations.
“I love Miami and felt my job wasn’t done yet. I came to school with goals in mind and I’ve reached most of them personally, but not all of them as a team. I want to help bring Miami a MAC championship and put us back on the top like we were in the past.”
When asked about his personal goals for 2017, Harding is fairly modest. “Play smart football consistently and play up to my ability. In doing so hopefully have the honor to grace the all-conference list two years in a row would be a blessing.”
He also isn’t focused on his potential NFL future just yet. “I just like to play the game and let everything else fall in order. I learned early when you try to do too much mistakes happen.” Like many, his dream is to play at the next level and Harding knows this year is his last chance to improve his draft stock. “As a kid growing up, NFL is always the dream and I felt coming back helps position me better on the draft boards.”
Although Harding isn’t focused on the NFL right now, he has covered NFL caliber wide receivers in his career. “Willie Snead my freshmen year was a hard cover for me. Also Corey Davis my sophomore year when I was at safety and he was in the slot.” When asked further, Harding went on about top talents he’s faced.
“Rokeem Williams, James Gardner and Jared Murphy makes the in game transition against great receiver smoother because I get awesome work in everyday with talented guys.”
If there is one NFL wide receiver he would love the challenge of going up against, Harding was quick to mention Cowboys WR Dez Bryant: “I’m a Cowboys fan, so going against Dez would be awesome.”
Harding is a humble young man with a ton of talent. He plays for his team, his school and his family; going about everything the right way. Keep an eye for Harding going forward in 2017.