Cumberland Times-News

Mike Mathews - Sports

February 2, 2012

For Harper, a great day to be a Mountaineer

A dozen years ago or so, there was a Pee Wee League football player scoring virtually at will and forcing everyone in the stands to take notice.

It’s that way just about every year. But this particular year, something was different. This time the youngster’s name was Jarrod Harper, of the Frostburg Cougars.

“I kept hearing so much about about him playing pee wee football that I showed up for one of his games,’’ Mountain Ridge assistant coach Ryan Patterson said. “And when I saw him then I knew the potential was there.”

Few doubted Harper had potential then. None doubt him today, after receiving a full scholarship to play Division I football at West Virginia University.

Patterson emailed former WVU defensive coordinator Mike Casteel during Harper’s junior year at Mountain Ridge. Patterson got a call back, and the rest became history.

Jarrod said he’s wanted to be a Mountaineer for a long, long time. Jane Harper, his step-mom of 11 1/2 years, recalled a frigid night in Morgantown when both imagined not what might be, but what soon will be.

“Four years ago we went to a night game at West Virginia,’’ Jane said. “It was against Louisville and it was freezing. We got to our seats just as the team was running onto the field.

“And Jarrod said, ‘I can see myself running out onto that field.’

“And I said, ‘I can too.’”

Soon, she will be able to see him do just that.

“It was always my dream to play at West Virginia and I appreciate all the love and support of everyone,’’ Harper said, choked up by emotion at times. “I’ve been blessed in many ways and I thank God.

“I promise to continue to work hard on and off the field and one day hope to see many of your faces at Mountaineer Field as I run onto that field,’’ he told those at Wednesday’s ceremony at Mountain Ridge.

“I hope in some way to be an inspiration to others to have big dreams. They can come true with hard work and dedication.”

Harper will be only an hour’s drive from home. But with West Virginia poised to join the Big 12, there will be trips west to places like Texas and Oklahoma, which is quite all right with Harper.

“It makes me feel good because it’s more competition, and I like competition,’’ he said of the pending conference move. “We’ll be in a bigger conference and there will be a lot more people at the games.”

The move from high school to major college football is a huge step, and Harper knows it.

“I talked to a lot of players and they said I’m big enough right now. Coach (Steve) Dunlap, my positions coach, said that, too. It’s the speed of the game that’s the big difference. It’s going to come at you a lot faster than high school.”

Harper said there are a lot of things he likes about West Virginia, but one seemed to stick out.

“Coach (Dana) Holgorsen brought a lot to the table as a first-year coach,’’ he said. “All the odds were against West Virginia at the Orange Bowl. I just love how they play. They let the media and people talk them down and then just go out and prove it on the field.”

West Virginia beat Clemson that night, quieting the skeptics in a big way, 70-33.

Harper’s officially a Mountaineer now, but he’s also still a Miner. And he’ll always remember that.

“I’m going to miss Friday nights, playing with my teammates. We’ve played together since the pee wee days and become best friends.

“I’ll miss the coaches and all the staff. They taught me so much and helped me get from a regular base athlete to the athlete I am today.

“I thank my dad, step mom, brother Josh, the Mountain Ridge faculty, friends, teammates, coaches, administration and fans,’’ he continued. “It makes me feel real good, having the community behind me all the way, and always coming to the games to support me and my  teammates.

“And to Coach Holgorsen and the West Virginia staff ... I already feel like a Mountaineer. Thank you for giving me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Harper is the son of Boyd and the late Betty Lou Spataro Harper.

Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Write to him at mmathews@times-news.com

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