Harper plays steady in secondary
By BILL HART
Deveron Harper doesn't hesitate when he answers what his greatest moment in his Irish playing career is.
"My interception return this weekend," he said. "That was definitely a dream of mine. I was glad to accomplish that."
For a player that has been such a solid contributor on the Notre Dame defense for so long, one would expect it would take longer to come to a decision.
Starting games for the Irish as far back as his freshman year, it's hard to imagine a Irish secondary without him in position. It was hard even for Harper to imagine, because from the first time he stepped on campus, he was drawn to Notre Dame.
"I was really convinced by my visit," he recalled. "I had a good time, and the teammates that took me around were a big thing. Academics, athletics — those were the main factors."
As soon as he donned the blue-and-gold jersey, Harper played an immediate role on the team. Depletions in the secondary put him in the role of top reserve cornerback. He amassed experience there quickly, thanks to numerous backup appearances.
When a hamstring injury bothered starter Ivory Covington, then-freshman Harper was thrust into the starting position for the USC game. He wasted no time to contribute, breaking up passes and tackling twice for losses.
Sophomore year saw a quick return to top backup cornerback, before injuries forced him to move to a starting role at free safety by the fifth game of the season. He proved his prowess in that position as well, starting in eight of the last nine games, including the Independence Bowl.
His exceptional play that season brought national attention, as he was ranked 10th nationally among cornerbacks by Lindy's as the '98 season approached.
As a junior, Harper was the logical choice to take a starting role in the secondary with the graduation of defensive cornerstones Covington and Allen Rossum.
Once again, he stepped into the position and continued to display the same determination he showed during the first two years of his Irish career.
Michigan fans will not have to be reminded this weekend about No. 10, after a performance in last year's opener where he recorded eight tackles, a sack and forced a fourth-quarter fumble that ended any hope of a Wolverine comeback.
Harper started in 10 of 12 games in his most successful season, recording 48 tackles, three sacks and two fumble recoveries. By midseason, he was forced to the sidelines by a hamstring injury, but he recovered quickly enough to start the final games of the regular season and the Gator Bowl.
Heading into his senior year, Harper found himself thrust into the starting role again, but this time with an even greater need to contribute with Tony Driver's move to tailback.
With his 22-yard interception for a touchdown against Kansas, Harper has proven once again that he is more than ready to take on the challenge.
"Basically, we were trying to read a three-step on the Kansas quarterback," Harper recalled the play. "I was able to read it, and I broke on the ball. He threw it, and I just picked it off."
Even as a freshman, Harper has felt the need to lead the team by example. Now, as a senior, he feels the pressure upon him even more.
"I've always tried to be a leader," he said. "As far as keeping my teammates' heads in the game. But it's more important now, because the young guys who just came in look up to me as a senior."
Harper's leadership has not gone unnoticed by freshmen on the team.
"He's been like a mentor to me. I watch him in practice, looking at how he moves and turns," freshman defensive back Albert Poree said. "I talk to him and he gives me advice, for both on and off the field."
Harper looks at this new responsibility, to lead by seniority as well as by example, as something more than just a privilege.
"When you're a senior, it's your duty to be a leader on the team," he said. "That's exactly the responsibility that I have to handle now."
All Sports Stories for Friday, September 3, 1999