Navy's undersized Harper overflowing with speed

Mids guard is lightest starting offensive lineman in Division I-A football

September 09, 2005|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

In many ways, Antron Harper personifies what the 2005 Navy football team is all about.

He is young, a sophomore who had never played a down for the varsity until last Saturday's heartbreaking 23-20 defeat to Maryland at M&T Bank Stadium.

He is far undersized, a 249-pound offensive guard who ranks as the lightest starting offensive lineman in NCAA Division I-A football.

And he is feisty, tenacious, intelligent and quick, all qualities that characterize the battling band that threw a major scare into the Terrapins, who finally prevailed with 1:01 to play in the game.

Harper impressed the coaches immensely during fall practice with his strong body and one asset that is vital to the triple-option offense: With a rapid burst, he can get to defenders in a hurry.

"I don't care how big you are, if you're the best person for the position, you're going to play," said Navy assistant head coach Ken Niumatalolo, who mentors an offensive line with four first-time starters. "With what we do, you've got to be able to move. And Antron has real quick feet and can do that."

Harper is from Eastman, Ga., south of Macon and is another example of a lightly recruited player who wanted to show his ability at the highest collegiate level.

"I was being recruiting basically by I-AA schools when I got a call from Coach [Brian] Bohannon [a Navy assistant]," said Harper. "He had heard about me, so I sent them a tape and everything went from there. I liked what the academy offered. I'm pretty stoked about the whole thing because I want to prove some I-A schools wrong."

Harper bench presses more than 400 pounds and figures to add more weight to a muscular frame with very little fatty tissue. He plays with a fiery intensity.

"He is pretty powerful and athletic," Niumatalolo said. "We pull him a lot [to lead running plays]. That's what you have to do in our offense, pull and move. He fits what we're looking for."

Said Harper: "I pull around 25 percent of the time. I'm in the lead on a lot of plays."

Both Niumatalolo and Harper said the player had some opening-game jitters, but, overall, performed OK.

"I'd grade myself about 50 percent," said Harper. "Those 300-pounders on the other side may have thought they were going to push me straight back, but that didn't happen. As the game went on, I got a lot more relaxed."

Harper is not sure how he acquired his unusual first name, but he believes it came from a cartoon character named Antwan. "It came out spelled different. There aren't too many Antrons around," he noted, "and I like it. I'll go with it."

A quantitative economics major, he had two poems appear in a poetry publication for youths.

"They were both about me," he said. "I just wrote on my own experience in English class my junior and senior years."

What else could be expected from a student who was born on Valentine's Day in 1985?

Harper is taking nothing for granted, particularly since he will be conceding 50 pounds to nearly all of the opponents across the line.

"Hard work and dedication, that's what you have to do," he said. "You have to look like you're always fighting for your job. I'm sure somebody in the nation had to be the smallest lineman. Why not me?"

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