Kelvin Harmon had never missed a practice. Not growing up, not in college, not ever.
So when his second NFL season was lost before it started -- he suffered a major knee injury while training in mid-June -- he was admittedly shocked. That disappointment quickly turned into motivation, though.
"The way I was brought up and my religion, I believe everything happens for a reason, and this was a time for me to look back and reflect and just come back stronger, so I took it as a positive," Harmon said earlier this week. "I tried to make it into a positive because obviously there was nothing I could do. Complaining isn't going to do anything, it's not going to bring my knee back, but putting in that work is going to do that."
Harmon, who underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL and LCL in his right knee in early July, ran his first route a few weeks ago and has since been regularly posting workout videos on social media.
It's been a long road, but Harmon's first major recovery is on the right track.
"For me personally, I just had to figure out what I needed to do as far as getting myself together physically and mentally for rehab," Harmon said. "And then from there, just come in and execute and dominate each and every day so I could get myself back on the field better than I was before."
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound sixth-round draft pick emerged as one of Washington's top receiving options as a rookie in 2019, averaging five targets and nearly 41.4 yards per game from Week 11 on. Combined with his physicality, curiosity and immediate success as a blocker, Harmon had “all the traits” of a promising young wide receiver.
But just as Harmon was gearing up for his second training camp, the knee injury thrust him into uncharted territory. Everything he worked for was put on hold, replaced by an extensive recovery he had never experienced.
One of the first steps in that process was working out on the exercise bike, which he accomplished about two weeks after surgery. About a week later, the team congregated at the Inova Sports and Performance Center to begin preparing for the 2020 campaign. Harmon was there, too -- gearing up for 2021.
For support, Harmon has leaned on his mother, father, brothers and close family friends. His improved relationship with God through bible study has also helped. "Obviously had some down days and things like that, but I don't think I let [the injury] shape me at all."
In fact, the biggest thing Harmon learned about himself was that he was "definitely up for the challenge" of turning this setback into a breakthrough. And as time passed, he began to see results. At 12 weeks, he lightly jogged in a pool; at 14, he ran on the treadmill. After four months of recovery, he tested his agility on the speed ladder.
All the while, Harmon went through the same COVID-19 protocols as his peers, such as daily testing and contact tracing. He attended meetings when they did not coincide with rehab and continued to interact with his teammates, especially fellow second-year wide receivers Terry McLaurin and Steven Sims Jr.
"My main focus for the most part was my rehab," he said. "but also staying in the mix, too, so I could still be familiar with the team and still be involved with that chemistry and that camaraderie."
And if he ever needed inspiration? Head coach Ron Rivera’s cancer battle certainly sufficed.
"I was able to talk to him a lot when I saw him throughout the building," Harmon said. "[We] always spoke to each other and always encouraged one another because he was going through his time, too. I think it was very motivating in a sense knowing what he went through, and he motivated the whole team, so we could definitely relate to each other in that sense. Obviously, his was by far way worse than mine, but just as far as overcoming that adversity throughout the season, I think that's something that we could kind of relate to."
With Rivera leading the charge, Washington overcame a 1-5 start to win five of its final seven games and secure its first NFC East title since 2015. Harmon viewed the season as a "great building block" for the future and proof this franchise could be a contender in this league.
But before Harmon can directly contribute to the team's turnaround, he's fully dedicated to returning to full strength. He'll spend his days at the team facility strengthening his knee, improving his mobility and regaining his explosiveness -- all of which will contribute to him trusting his right leg more.
And once he has completed his comeback, he'll rejoin a young and diverse wide receiver group battling to elevate the offense to new heights.
"I think the sky's the limit for us. We've got a lot of young guys competing. We've got guys like Terry, Cam [Sims], Steve -- we're all different types of receivers. ...Steel sharpens steel, and that's what you'll see throughout training camp and OTAs, and the best man is going to be out there. It's a very competitive room."