Strong knows the ex­pec­ta­tions fac­ing Sun Devils WR Harry

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Two of the best re­ceivers in re­cent Ari­zona State his­tory – maybe longer – sit down and try to re­mem­ber the first time they met.

“It might have been Notre Dame,” said Jae­len Strong, re­fer­ring to ASU’s 2014 home win over the Fight­ing Ir­ish.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” N’Keal Harry said. “Af­ter the game.”

“I think I met you in the locker room,” Strong said.

Strong and Harry are sim­i­lar in terms of col­lege pro­duc­tion and sta­tus. In two sea­sons, from 2013 to 2014, Strong had 157 re­cep­tions (sixth-most in school his­tory) for 2,287 yards (eighth) and 17 touch­downs. Over the past two sea­sons, Harry has 140 re­cep­tions (tied for 10th) for 1,801 yards and 13 touch­downs.

If any­one knows what Harry faces en­ter­ing his ju­nior sea­son, it’s Strong. He un­der­stands the pres­sure of pre­sea­son ex­pec­ta­tions. He knows what it’s like to be the fo­cal point of de­fenses. And per­haps most im­por­tant, he un­der­stands the dis­ci­pline it re­quires to stay fo­cused while ev­ery­one asks about the NFL.

“I’ve ac­tu­ally ad­mit­ted to N’Keal, told him that I more so want to be in his cor­ner be­cause of de­ci­sions I’ve made that weren’t al­ways the best,” said Strong, who de­clared for the NFL af­ter his ju­nior sea­son. In 2015, the Hous­ton Tex­ans se­lected him in the third round.

Strong re­mem­bers his ap­proach well. Dur­ing his ju­nior sea­son, he tried to per­fect ev­ery drill. His daily thought process: If I can’t beat Da­mar­i­ous Ran­dall in prac­tice, there’s no way I can beat All-Pros like Pa­trick Peter­son or Richard Sher­man.

“I tell (Harry) ev­ery time I talk to him: Stay locked in, stay fo­cused,” Strong said. “If you want to go Top 10, if you want to go Num­ber 1 over­all, the way you’re go­ing to do that is if ya’ll go in there and win that cham­pi­onship.”

Harry has ac­com­plished a lot in two years. In 2016, he was a Fresh­man Al­lAmer­i­can. Last year he was a first-team All-Pac-12 se­lec­tion. En­ter­ing this sea­son, the 6-foot-4, 221-pound re­ceiver is a pre­sea­son All-Amer­i­can can­di­date and a first-round pick on some mock NFL draft boards.

Harry’s re­ac­tion to all this: work­ing harder.

On most sum­mer week days, he at­tended the team’s manda­tory work­outs. Upon com­ple­tion, he caught balls on the JUGS pass­ing ma­chine. Then he would do an ex­tra lift in the weight room be­fore go­ing home to “chill” for a cou­ple hours. Later, Harry would go out for one fi­nal work­out.

“I just feel like if I’m do­ing our team work­out, then catching some balls, do­ing foot­work af­ter and then do­ing an­other work­out by my­self, that’s just go­ing to sep­a­rate me that much more,” Harry said.

Strong knows the feel­ing. En­ter­ing his ju­nior sea­son, he paid at­ten­tion to what the ex­perts said about his peers. About Alabama’s Amari Cooper, West Vir­ginia’s Kevin White and Colorado State’s Rashard Hig­gins.

He won­dered: What are they say­ing about those guys that they’re not say­ing about me? It pushed him.

“I feel like you could take it one of two ways,” said Strong, whose NFL ca­reer has stalled as he re­cov­ers from an ACL in­jury. “You could al­low it to mo­ti­vate you or you could al­low it to hurt you. I used to find things that would mo­ti­vate me. No mat­ter how good they had me, I wanted to know what I could do bet­ter.”

There’s mu­tual re­spect here. While he was at Chan­dler High, Harry watched Strong blos­som into one of the coun­try’s top threats, a sec­ond-team Al­lAmer­i­can. Although he might be best known for catching Mike Ber­covici’s Hail Mary pass to beat USC, Strong was a model of con­sis­tency, post­ing 12 100yard re­ceiv­ing con­tests.

“Just his style of play,” Harry said when asked what he re­mem­bered about Strong. “The way he caught the ball. The way he fin­ished. I watched him work out of the slot and I was just think­ing, ‘That’s how I want to play.’ ” Strong also has stud­ied Harry.

“I feel like one thing he does have that I wish I had – he's got a lit­tle bit more wig­gle,” Strong said. “I’m more of a on­estep-and-go kind of guy, so I was never re­ally able to be back for punt re­turn and all that stuff.”

Harry is more phys­i­cal.

“I’ve seen guys bounce off him a lot, where with me, I kind of was more fi­nesse with it,” Strong said. “If I don’t have to get hit, you ain’t hit­ting me. But with him, he wants all the smoke, (like), come on, bring it on.”

Strong has bet­ter speed. “Yeah, he’s got me in speed,” Harry agreed.

Mov­ing for­ward, Strong just wants to be avail­able for Harry. Dur­ing his ASU days, then-coach Todd Gra­ham held ev­ery­one to a cer­tain stan­dard, but it wasn’t al­ways that way in the locker room. Strong wishes at times some­one was strong enough to say: “J, you’re wrong. Get your­self to­gether.”

“That’s why I’m here,” Strong said. “I just want to see him do bet­ter than me. I want him to go out there – 1,500 yards this year, break Shaun Mc­Don­ald’s (sea­son yardage) record. I want him to be an All-Amer­i­can. Be on that wall next to me. And he can do it, too.”

As long as he gets the ball. Strong never had that prob­lem with for­mer ASU quar­ter­backs Ber­covici and Tay­lor Kelly.

“We joke with Manny,” Strong said, re­fer­ring to se­nior quar­ter­back Manny Wilkins. “Manny, throw him the ball, man! I don’t care, Manny. That’s what you got to do. That’s what T.K. used to do. Berco, too. Berco used to throw the passes to me. I used to be like, 'Berco, what are you ” Harry laughs.

“You got to do that,” Strong said. “Tom Brady posted a pic­ture the other day that said: ‘Pick a guy, let it fly.’ That’s what you got to do, and I’m telling you: They’re go­ing to dou­ble (Harry), but he won't let Manny down.”

PA­TRICK BREEN/THE RE­PUB­LIC

Ari­zona State re­ceiver N’Keal Harry (1) dances dur­ing warm-ups for the Sun Devils’ scrim­mage at Ka­jikawa Prac­tice Fields in Tempe on Satur­day.

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