Now that his high school season has ended, Jamie Harper, the stud running back from Jacksonville’s Trinity Christian will plunge headlong into recruiting. Obviously, this 6-0, 226-pound power back is one of Florida’s prime targets but the Gators won’t land him without a fight. Gator Country spent a long time with Harper this week. In this first of two parts, Harper talks about recruiting.
Harper is one of the most highly sought running backs in the entire country because of his blend of speed and power. A lot of folks figure that it’s a two-team race between Florida and Clemson, but he says that there are seven schools that all have a chance.
“I would have to go with Clemson, Florida, Illinois, LSU, Florida State, UGA, and Miami,” Harper said. “I think right before I go to the All-Star game (ESPN All-American Game, practice starts Dec. 31, game Jan. 5 in Orlando) I think I will have enough time to get down to a top three then.”
Clemson has been high on his list for a long time and the Tigers seemingly have offered every one of Harper’s friends that will be playing next year in Division I. It seems like a valiant effort to sway his vote on signing day and it also seems to be making a mark in the process. Harper has been up to Clemson a couple of times with Kyle Parker, a quarterback prospect from Jacksonville that has already committed to Clemson.
“I went with Kyle Parker and the fans there just get to know the recruits that come in,” he said. “They love to know the young kids that come in and are going to make an impact. They just seem to know us and that is amazing. I would be used to that if I was in Jacksonville, but in South Carolina, they knew me and that was crazy.
“Another one of my teammates (Daniel Andrews) was offered by them a couple of weeks ago. His father built a house up there because his sister went to another school up there. We stayed at his house all weekend. We left on Sunday.”
Harper made this second trip in the daytime as opposed to night just to get a different perspective.
“It’s always great when you go into an atmosphere like that in a college town,” Harper said. “I had been there once and was blown away by the night game,. This time I went to a day game and watch them play Wake Forest and play Tiger football. To see C.J. Spiller, James Davis and the rest get after it and watching the fans as usual get crazy. It was a fun experience.”
Harper liked everything about the trip from the school, to the staff, to the general atmosphere surrounding all of it.
“Coming from the environment we come from, a small Christian private school, it is almost like the same there,” he said. “They have a coach that is profound Christian and loves the game of football.”
There were plenty of rumors swirling that Harper committed to Clemson after the Wake Forest game. According to Harper, he really wasn’t even asked to commit.
“No, that wasn’t the case,” said Harper, denying the commitment vehemently. “They asked me when I thought I would get it over with. I told them it was going to be a process I go through and make sure I slow down and make the best decision for me.”
The Tigers have had their ups and downs this season and the offense has had lapses of epic proportions. That hasn’t gone unnoticed by Harper, but he does like what they try to do.
“Well, Clemson … everybody has positives and negatives,” he said with hesitation. “I like how they get the ball in the hands of the play makers. Their defense is tremendous from what I see. The thing is they are up and down. They can beat the number one team in the country and then turn around and get beat by the number eight team in the country. The way they work their running backs into the direct snaps and into the offense, I think I really like the way they feature their backs.”
Harper offered bits about five other schools on his list before we went into more detail about Florida.
ILLINOIS: “The way they have their running back Mendenhall doing … the way he is looking as far as leaving looks good. Going there with the athletes surrounding them, they have come a long way. I know Coach (Dan) Disch up there and know a couple of guys up there that came from Jacksonville, too.”
LSU: “They are powerhouse football. I like what they have to do with the big back with speed. I think I can fit perfectly in their scheme. I am from over there in Texas and we travel through there to get to Texas almost every year.”
FLORIDA STATE: “They always have been running the ball and have numerous running backs coming out of there. They were always a team I loved to watch go out on the field and go crazy. I think I can come in and fit in that spot and play a huge role for them.”
GEORGIA: “I like Mark Richt as a coach and his perspective is great. Knowshon Moreno is an amazing player and that is probably the only bad thing. I don’t have a problem splitting carries, but I would want a real opportunity, because that dude is amazing.”
MIAMI: “I didn’t receive an offer letter from them, but they came down saying that they had offered and didn’t think I was interested at all. I finally got one. They also offered Daniel as well, but they offered Daniel and I had nothing to do with that. They have always been a great running team and have a lot of great running backs in the league. They have been under performing lately, but other than that they have a great tradition.”
And then there are the Gators. The University of Florida is just 75 miles southwest of Jacksonville and many locals consider the Gators to be their home team. Harper does like Florida a lot and he spells out why they are a school he is looking hard at.
One thing opposing schools have been on Harper about the Gators is that Florida does not run the ball with the running back that much. The problem is, Harper has studied the Gators a lot this year and he knows what is going on.
“From their perspective, the back doesn’t get the ball enough, but I feel like the back they have there is not an explosive play maker, so they are not going to give him the ball as much,” Harper said matter of factly. “Florida in general … you have Tim Tebow, you have Percy Harvin, Bubba Caldwell, and all those threats. If they come in there with a running back that can actually produce and make plays like them guys, that offense would be almost unstoppable.
“Me and my daddy sit there and watch that offense and all those athletes and see a running back that isn’t a home run guy. I talk to Tebow when I go down there every time. He tells me the same thing — a big back will take the load off of him also. Besides that, there isn’t too many things wrong with (the offense).”
Harper also has a great if not funny relationship with the Florida coaches. He talks to them about all kinds of things. Running backs coach Stan Drayton has stayed on Harper from day one and is not about to let this one get away.
“Coach Drayton tries to get in touch with me once a week and updates me on how his guys are doing health wise and mentally,” Harper said. “From that standpoint he tells me how they are coming off a loss or win and what they need to do in the future. Then he gets Coach Meyer on the phone. They have two different perspectives. Drayton talks to me about church, NFL, Florida or whatever. Urban is funny, he is just like ‘so Harp when are you committing?’”
It is going to be another couple of months before Meyer gets an answer one way or another on Harper. He really hasn’t set any firm official visit dates yet.
“I know Danny Andrews is trying to go to Clemson on January 11th,” Harper said. “I am not sure I am going to that one though. I am playing in the ESPNU game and then playing a Shrine Bowl game right after that.”
Harper finished his high school career with a 16-carry, 220-yard performance against Newberry last week. He is a dynamic, big, and fast running back that runs with his shoulders lowered and a great body lean. Some observers think he reminds them of Herschel Walker the way he leans when he runs. He has quite a way to go to live up to that, but this kid has all the tools.
Look for part two of our conversation with Harper on Thanksgiving Day.