DITR: DE / TE Winston Harstvedt, South Walton High School (Santa Rosa Beach, Florida)

Sometimes, when you are watching a football game, a player just pops on the field. Your eyes are drawn to their number, mesmerized by their movements on the field, waiting with baited breath to see what they do next. They are a rare breed that can completely transform how you watch a team play. Winston Harstvedt is a part of that rare breed.

The first thing you notice when you turn on his film is his athleticism, which can only be described as freakish. He’s 6’4” and 240 pounds with an 80 inch wingspan, and every bit of that impressive body shows itself on the field and in the box score. His long limbs make it difficult for an offensive lineman to get their hands to his chest in order to complete a block. His speed relative to his size makes him a menace all over the field. No matter how far away Harstvedt may seem from a play, he is always a threat to make the tackle, which is also in large part due to his high football iq.

Harstvedt is an intelligent person. It showed in his interview, it shows in the collegiate offers he’s getting (his two offers are currently both Ivy League schools: Penn and Brown), and it shows on the field. Anticipating where the ball is going is intuitive to him, which leads to a sideline-to-sideline range that almost seems superhuman. His ability to pursue the ball carrier is unlike anything you’ll see from the vast majority of defensive ends at the high school level. And once he gets there? That play is over with no exception. That is because of his technique.

Winston’s technique is quite formidable for a high school player, especially considering his two-way status. All of the athletic and mental tools in the world won’t get anyone anywhere without the technical prowess he has shown. On the defensive side, he’s a consistent tackler and has shown the ability to shed blocks with ease in order to get himself into tackling position. However, while much of the impression he has left has been on that defensive side, he has a lot of the tools needed to be an effective tight end at the college level too. He has consistent hands and is, unsurprisingly, a problem with the ball in his hands after the catch. That being said, he might be even scarier when the ball is out of his hands as a blocker. He’s the last guy you want to see standing between you and a running back streaking down the sideline. That’s because he’s one of the only blockers out there with the capacity to both keep up with that running back down the field and lay the smack down on any unfortunate safety that’s in his way.

All of this shows itself in his statistical profile, which is unique in its diversity. Playing primarily defensive end, Harstvedt had an interception, multiple pass breakups, and a field goal block all in his junior season. That junior year is a great example of how the sack statistic is not an all-encompassing stat for edge rusher production. He had a major step down in sack production from his sophomore to junior years, from 5.5 to 1.0 sacks. However, just because you don’t get all the way to the quarterback on a passing play doesn’t mean you aren’t having a massive effect on said play, and Harstvedt understands that intrinsically with his playstyle. He might not get to the quarterback every play, but he can drive the tackle back far enough to make the quarterback uncomfortable. Then he throws his tree branch arms in the air as the pass is being made in order to cut off the passing lane, either disturbing the rhythm and accuracy of the throw, or outright batting it down and forcing an incompletion. Being able to do that consistently is just as important to the effectiveness of a defensive end as getting a good number of sacks.

That’s who Winston Harstvedt is, and many colleges out there would be happy to have him.

What got you into football in the first place? What makes you love it?

My dad started me when I was four, playing little league. At that age I didn’t know I’d love it. But just by playing it, you get around a certain group of guys, you see it around other people, and you learn to do so. Now I have the opportunity to go to college for free and do something I love, so it’s a win-win.

You’re a multi-sport athlete. What skills from the other sports that you play do you utilize when you’re playing football?

I play basketball as well. One of the biggest things from basketball that translates to football is the conditioning. In basketball, you run down the court so many times that it gets you in shape for football to play both ways when I’ve needed to. Jumping also helps coming from basketball. I’m a power forward, and getting all those rebounds translates to football. My vertical increased seven inches when I started playing basketball.

What’s your favorite position to play on the field and why?

Probably edge. Lining up on the seven technique, coming from the edge, and blitzing the quarterback is probably my strong suit and it’s just fun to me. On those long 3rd downs, I get to pin my ears back and get to the quarterback.

What is your biggest strength on the field?

On the defensive side, the pass rushing is my best quality or trait there. On the offensive end, I have really good hands – I hardly ever drop a pass.

Which NFL player do you try to emulate the most with your own game?

Not as much NFL, but Patrick Payton is a defensive end for FSU. When I went to their practice and everything, that’s who I would watch most of the time. When I would go to FSU games, I’d watch him. I’m a football guy – when I like going to football games, I enjoy watching that position to learn new moves and see how they approach what they have to do. So he is someone that I look up to and try to model my game like.

What has been your biggest improvement to your game over the last few years?

I’ve become a better athlete. The weight room has helped a lot, I’ve become more agile, but it’s mostly the strength. You can’t be weak out there on the field, so it’s the strength that has helped the most.

What has the recruiting process been like for you?

It’s been pretty good. I’ve learned a lot, but I wish I would have known more about the recruiting process before all of this. I got an offer from Penn a while ago, and just got an offer from Brown.

Are you looking to go to an Ivy League School? What kind of school do you want to go to?

Yeah, I think the Ivy League is where I want to go. I want to end up with a great education. I want to play in the NFL one day, but the statistic is that like 2% of people go to the NFL, so I don’t want to bank on that though. I want to come out of college with a great degree.

What are some goals for yourself and your team this year?

With my school, I’d like to win district and make the playoffs and everything. I’d like to see this team improve throughout the season. Yeah, making the playoffs, but then winning games in the playoffs is especially great. We’re all here to win a ring. It’s about improving every day and not being satisfied with how we are. Individually, it’s about being a leader on my team. As a senior, it’s about leading them in the right direction. Then it’s improving in the stat categories – you know tackles, sacks, all that type of stuff.

What do you do outside of practice to improve?

Just watching other players. Rivals will post on YouTube videos of 1 v 1s at all these different camps, and I’ll watch how the offensive lineman step back and everything. Sometimes I’ll watch dudes from my position as well.