Head games don't slow down Wright's Tharpe Senior is carving big-time reputation

November 01, 1993|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

The ribbing was chalked in on the portable blackboard that sits outside the office of C. Milton Wright football coach Steve Harward.

On the left side was a circle about three inches in diameter depicting a smiling face with the inscription: "Jay's head before the season."

On the other side was a circle of another smiling face 10 times larger with the words: "Jay's head now" written above it.

But, if the truth be known, success hasn't spoiled the area's leading high school runner, Jason Tharpe.

"They're just ragging on him," said Harward. "Jason is a very quiet, well-adjusted kid."

If anything, Tharpe's helmet size has shrunk since he shaved his head this season while his statistics have swelled -- to 1,291 yards rushing on 196 carries, a 6.6-yard average, and 19 touchdowns.

Not bad for a senior who doesn't overwhelm the opposition with size (he's 5 feet 11, 195 pounds) or speed (4.62 in the 40-yard --), but thrives on dedication to the work ethic and Harward's commitment to a strong ground game.

And Tharpe is no Jason-come-lately. Last year, he and Chris Gill (now at James Madison) formed the most potent 1-2 combination in the area, both gaining more than 1,000 yards. They combined for 35 touchdowns.

Although Tharpe is a solid midfielder for the Mustangs' lacrosse team, he lives to play football, lifting weights to increase bulk and practicing with as much zeal as he demonstrates on game nights.

He rarely misses a down, playing full-time at linebacker and on the special teams. He has had the words "Stangs Football" and the imprint of a football shaved into his haircut.

"If I was just out there to block, it would be fine with me," said Tharpe, who continued to play despite a fracture in his nose after the second game this season.

He comes by his devotion to the game naturally. His father DeWitt was an athlete at Bel Air High School and is a volun- teer coach with the Mustangs' junior varsity. His older brothers, Mike and Bill, both played for Harward at C. Milton Wright.

The three brothers have one common thread -- all were members of teams that lost to Bel Air during Wright's homecoming game.

Jason's defeat two weeks ago was the most bitter because it broke the Mustangs' 39-game regular-season winning streak and is forcing them to struggle harder than usual for their customary state Class 3A playoff spot.

"Not to say we were cocky," said Tharpe, "but that brought our heads out of the clouds. We're always expected to win, so it was tough to deal with. But better to have it in the middle of the season than in the postseason."

Harward said: "Perhaps experiencing some adversity is good for them. Some of these kids were in the eighth grade when the streak started. They understood they didn't prepare as well as they should have and that it's not where you start, but how you finish."

If they don't understand, Tharpe will surely remind them. A team co-captain who sports a 3.5 grade-point average, he is held in high esteem by his peers.

"When somebody gets out of line, they know they'll be hearing from Jason," said Harward. "He is the first one to tell them how to get back on track."

There is no slack period for Tharpe, who spends summers and much of his free time doing the heavy lifting required by his father's feed mill and works the weights with Mike, who played center at 165 pounds.

"He's an inspiration," said Jason.

Tharpe plans to make athletics a career activity. He hopes to major in physical therapy or sports medicine in college . . . and, of course, play football.

"It would be easy to get lost in the shuffle at a real big football school," he said. "But I could go to one, depending on the system. I do plan to go on somewhere. It's a dream."

It is more likely, though, that he will enroll at a Division I-AA school to ensure playing time.

"I remember Jason when he was just a little butterball, about 5-foot-5," said Harward. "Now he's solid in every way, a hard worker and a real leader."

"Hey, I do have a big head, even when it's shaved," Tharpe said with a laugh.

Nobody at Wright is complaining.

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