By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Coming into the 2015 football season, everybody knew who Amir Mitchell was. And people had a pretty good idea of who Bo Melton was. It took a little while for area fans to figure out who No. 9 was for Cedar Creek.
Check that. It only took about two weeks. In the second game of the season, senior wide receiver Khamir Harvey took a screen pass from quarterback Jesse Milza and blazed down the left sideline for a 90-yard touchdown that gave the visiting Pirates a 34-7 lead on Buena Regional. Suddenly, defenses had a lot more to worry about than just Mitchell and Melton when it came to game planning against Cedar Creek.
“This year was a pretty big year for us. We got the job done. The whole team worked together with coach (Tim) Watson standing right behind us, and all the other coaches. We had a great season,” Harvey said.
“He was definitely an underdog compared to Bo and Amir. He was overlooked a lot. He was also a great punt returner for us and made a big impact that way. On film, you don’t see it when it’s not an everyday thing like with Bo. But as a quarterback, it’s nice to have a guy with that kind of speed. When we run four-wide, sometimes the outside guys are out there to make sure the safeties don’t cheat. That’s when guys like Louie and Khamir can have some big games, when those guys cheat and we can go up top for some big plays,” Milza said. “Khamir worked hard every day. He never took a day off. He had certain things he had to work on with his hands and his route running, so he came to work every day and got better and better. But he was also a loose kid who liked to have fun with everything he did. He’s a really funny kid, and a good kid to be around.”
“Khamir was kind of a guy who flew under the radar and there were several games — probably the most noteworthy being against Buena — where he stepped up and made some big plays. He’s always had big-play ability, and we knew that. His first couple of years, he was a smaller guy, but this year he was able to get his weight up to withstand some of those big hits you take as a wide receiver. He was poised to have a breakout year, and he was excited to get a lot of reps to be able to prove himself. I’m glad he had a good year for us,” Watson said. “We knew that Amir was going to get the bulk of the coverage and that teams would be doing a lot to make sure they took care of him, and that was going to free up other guys. Obviously, it freed up Bo. But even with that, we knew we had other guys. Louie Pitale did a great job for us as well. It gave Jesse an opportunity to mix it up and not feel like he had to lock in on one receiver.”
With a receiving corps that included Mitchell, Melton, Harvey, Pitale and Malachi Timberlake, Milza was able to direct one of the most prolific offenses in the state. The Pirates put up 26 or more points in seven of their 12 games, went 10-2 and won the South Jersey Group 2 state championship. They came from behind in each of their three playoff games. Harvey didn’t have any big-time stats during the playoffs, as Mitchell and Melton carried much of the offensive load and he was asked to do more blocking and decoy route running. But the Pirates’ credo from the start of the season was “Ubuntu”, which is a South African philosophy that roughly translates into the efforts of one for the good of all. Meaning, if you are a wide receiver who is asked to block, it’s because it the coaches believe that’s what will help the team win.
“In the beginning of the year, our theme was Ubuntu. Everything we did, we tried to focus on that and wanted to keep that in the forefront of their mind that we were all in it together. Those guys made enough plays that I don’t think there was any kind of jealousy or a guy wishing he had more opportunities,” Watson said. “At the end of the day, those guys just wanted to maximize what we were able to do as a unit, whether that meant having one catch, throwing a block on a touchdown — which a lot of our receivers did a good job on, blocking down field — it was key for those guys to stay on blocks so guys like Bo could extend plays.”
Harvey made his impact catching short passes and then using his exceptional speed to gain yards after the catch. Cedar Creek’s offense was designed around short passes to take pressure off a relatively inexperienced offensive line, and the talents of guys such as Harvey and Pitale made that plan work to perfection.
“The bubbles and the quick screens are not easy to complete at the high school level. You don’t see it done really well all the time, but that kind of became our bread-and-butter. We knew we weren’t really big or experienced up front, so the idea was to get a bunch of extended hand-offs. We knew we had a bunch of athletes at the skill positions that could hopefully wear people down by keeping them running sideline to sideline,” Watson said. “Khamir was a guy who, when he was in the open field, he had that extra gear. You get him in the open field, and he’s very dangerous. He proved that time and time again, and a couple of times he made some really big plays for us. He earned it. He had been waiting in the wings for his opportunities and he never sulked about it. He played some as a junior, but I love to see guys who aren’t the stars of the show emerge as seniors. They are guys who paid their dues and waited their turn with good attitudes, and Khamir is a perfect example of that.”
Watson said Harvey was comfortable with his role on the team, and flourished whenever he was given the opportunity.
“There were a lot of big personalities on our team, and Khamir was a guy who liked to have fun. He was always ready to have a good time, but I think he would let some of the other guys kind of take the lead when it came to that. I think he enjoyed his senior year, and it’s always great to see seniors get rewarded with strong play and a good season,” Watsons said. “That’s something you work for as you are coming up. Khamir was having a good year because he realized it was a good run we were finishing off.”
Harvey said he didn’t mind deferring to Mitchell and Melton when it came to the spotlight. He just wanted to contribute to the team’s success in any way he could, he said.
“It was exciting having Amir and Bo to practice with and look up to. I would try to mimic what they were doing a little bit, but in my own way. It was exciting to play with those guys this year. We would study film and watch the defensive schemes other teams had, and we were pretty much saying that nobody could hold us down because our wide receiver corps was too strong. It all came from how we prepared in practice and how we went through our drills. Every week it was a different player coming out of his shell because it was always a competition between us. We were always competing to keep the intensity level high,” Harvey said. “Being on this team was amazing, all my brothers coming together as one and nobody worrying about who had the most catches, who had the most yards. It was us just us playing together as a family, and that’s really what Cedar Creek football is about — Ubuntu, us playing together as one.”
That philosophy produced a state championship ring for Harvey. Being part of the Cedar Creek football family also gave him something else — confidence in himself as an athlete and a student. He has parlayed that confidence into college, as he plans to play this fall at Walsh University, a Division II school in North Canton, Ohio.
“I think back, like, ‘wow. Time flew and I really grew as a player.’ This year, I got all As and Bs, I saw myself improve, not only on the field but in the classroom as well. Now I’m going to college at Walsh University in Ohio,” Harvey said. “I would like to thank everybody, all the coaches and players there, for making me a better player and making me the person I am today. It was truly amazing playing for Cedar Creek. The fans, the “Creek Coaster,” all that stuff. I will never forget playing for Cedar Creek.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN