The Wichita Eagle Bob Lutz column
Dec 31, 2012 (The Wichita Eagle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
I still don't think we've seen the best of Chris Harper as a football player.
There's more in there, down deep, even as he continues with one of the best seasons for a Kansas State receiver. Harper knows it, too. While he's not unhappy with his college career, he acknowledges what I suspect most who follow the Wildcats think -- that he has only scratched the surface.
We're talking about a 6-foot-1 receiver with tremendous size (234 pounds) and better-than-average speed. Harper, who has caught 50 passes for 786 yards and three touchdowns in 2012, has broken free for some big plays. And, of course, he's a brute to bring down on the slant and sideline routes he's most accustomed to.
The thing is, Harper expected more from himself. In fact, he thought he would be set up to leave K-State at the end of the 2011 season and pursue his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL. Degree in tow, thanks to a year of ineligibility after transferring from Oregon, Harper saw Manhattan as a shorter stop than it has turned out to be.
"But I couldn't leave on that note,'' Harper said.
He's talking about his overall performance in 2011, but more specifically about his awful game against Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, where the Wildcats never got into an offensive rhythm.
Harper, who thought he was primed for a big game, finished with one catch, good for 11 yards. He dropped several balls from quarterback Collin Klein and that game sent him into an emotional spiral.
"The worst game of my life, easily,'' said Harper, as he prepares for another bowl game -- the Fiesta -- to be played Thursday night against Oregon. "Not even close.''
Dreaming of playing in the NFL is one thing. Putting together the kind of resume it takes to get there is another. And after Harper's modest numbers of 2011 -- 40 catches, 547 yards, five touchdowns -- he realized he wasn't on the fast track.
After he had shaken off the disappointment of the Arkansas game, Harper devoted himself to finally putting it all together in 2012. He received a degree in communications last December and has rarely stopped communicating with himself since about how much more he thought he could do on the football field, remembering that he has only been a receiver for a comparatively short amount of time.
"I was trying to be too technical,'' Harper said. "But playing football has to be instinctive and that's the way I played my whole life until I started playing receiver after I got to K-State. It kind of changed the way I played because it was a new thing.''
Harper was a running back and quarterback at Northwest High and he played some quarterback at Oregon as a freshman. But it made sense to move Harper to receiver because of his size and speed. Now he's getting the hang of it.
After a slow start to this season -- Harper had only 11 catches after K-State's first four games -- he took off. In K-State's last eight games, Harper caught 39 passes for 648 yards. He had a 123-yard game against Baylor and back-to-back-to-back weeks of 96, 99 and 89 yards against West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
So much better. Still not enough.
"I'm not satisfied,'' Harper said. "I record every game I play in and watch them later to see the opportunities I had. At the beginning of the season, I just wasn't catching the ball. I could have done a lot of things differently with my mentality.''
Harper, as you can tell, wants to be great. Not good or even very good. He believes he is an NFL-caliber receiver and is thankful for the opportunity to play in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 26 in Mobile, Ala., where scouts from every NFL organization will have their pens and notebooks ready.
Harper already has the eighth-most receiving yards in K-State history and could move to as high as six with a good game against Oregon. His coach, Bill Snyder, frequently talks about how a receiver's yards are not always the best indicator of his worth to the team. Harper, for instance, is a big asset to the Wildcats' running game because of his ability to block.
Still, Harper would just as soon catch the football. That's what he loves doing. His one-catch game against Arkansas was a such a dud.
"That game weighed on my mind so much, to the point that I wasn't on my phone, I wasn't texting, I wasn't doing any of that for a good two weeks after it was over,'' Harper said.
But instead of doing everything he could to wipe the Cotton Bowl from his memory, he made it a point to memorize every play. He ran it through his DVR at least 20 times, he said.
"Even at the end of this season, I put that game on and watched it a couple of times,'' Harper said. "I was never in a situation where I prepared so hard for something like that and then failed like I did.''
Finally, after the misery started to subside, Harper decided to use the Arkansas game as incentive. If he was going back to K-State for one more year, which wasn't in his original plans, he would make it a good year.
And that's what Harper has done. He's back to being the confident, instinctive player he used to be, primed for a big Fiesta Bowl.
You can't keep a good football player down.
Check Bob Lutz's blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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