By Rick White
He’s not big. Nor particularly fast. Harvey Park just has a knack for catching footballs — and finding the end zone.
His coach and teammates rave about his hands, knowledge of the game and determination.
The combination of skills and intangibles has the Melrose senior wide receiver closing in on a 60-year-old National High Federation six-man football record for touchdown catches in a season, according to SixManNation.com. The 5-foot-9, 150-pound Park has hauled in 22 scoring passes for the Buffaloes (6-2) heading into Saturday’s state quarterfinal game House (3-4).
Lloyd Hartman of Wolbach, Neb., holds the record with 25 in 1943, according the Web site. Park could have as many as three games left to break the record if the Buffaloes reach the state title game.
“I don’t really care a lot about the record,” said Parks, who has 39 receptions for 636 yards this season. “I’d rather win the state championship. If it works out I can get both, that would be great.”
Park showed a similar unselfish approach earlier this season when he helped senior Stefan Wagley score the first touchdown of his career.
Late in a win over Lake Arthur, Park grabbed a long pass and lateraled it to his teammate so he could feel what it’s like to get in the end zone.
“I just wanted to get him a touchdown because he’s worked so hard in practice,” Park said. It is Wagley’s first year of playing organized football.
Melrose coach Dickie Roybal said his star receiver goes after a football in the air like a hungry dog after a bone, which leads to some remarkable catches.
“Anytime he’s one-on-one we try to go to him,” Roybal said. “When the ball goes up he just knows how to go get it.
“He’s got such great hands, which makes up for his (lack of) speed.”
Sophomore quarterback Brock Graham said Park makes the routine catch look easy and the hard catch look routine.
“He runs patterns the way they’re supposed to be run. I know if I threw it he’ll catch it,” Graham said. “And he’s not afraid of getting hit.”
Another reason for the pass-catch duo’s success is an audible system using hand signals.
“I’ll just let him know what route I’m going to run,” Park said. “And usually, he’ll get me the ball.”
Park credits conditioning — the Buffaloes run before school three times a week in addition to practice — and hours of playing sandlot football with his success.
“I think we’re in a little bit better shape. In the third quarter sometimes I can hear the guy guarding me trying to catch his breath, so I know they’re tired.”
Park and Graham are part of a three-prong attack for the high-scoring Buffaloes that has kept opposing coaches up at night.
Sophomore running back Carlos Ruiz is the third member of the group and arguably the most feared.
“A lot of times we catch people sucking up against the run and that leaves Harvey one-on-one,” Roybal said. “And anytime he’s one-on-one with a defender he seems to come up with the ball.”
And in the end zone.