Bandysâ€™ star Justin Harperâ€™s course was already charted out. The 6â€™4â€ two-sport standout had already committed to the Winthrop University Eagles to play basketball.
At the time, Harper was a non-motivated student toting a 2.5 GPA and hadnâ€™t yet reached an 820 on his SAT. Then Hargrave Military Academy came calling.
Hargrave, an institution located in Chatham, Virginia and known for instilling discipline in young men, has also become a prep football powerhouse.
Hargrave wasnâ€™t interested in Harper for his basketball exploits. They wanted his services on the gridiron.
The way of life in Chatham was different for the undisciplined Harper. Get up at 6 a.m., march to breakfast, get in formation march to class, march to lunch, meet with tutors for an hour and then football practice– lights out at 10 p.m.
The change of scenery was a God-send for Harper in football and in the classroom.
â€œThere they stay on you to do your work. They pushed SAT scores, because the majority of the football players there havenâ€™t qualified. You find yourself doing your work, your pants arenâ€™t sagging anymore and if you have to be somewhere, youâ€™ll be there 10 minutes before time,â€ Harper said.
Hargrave defeated Fork Union to gain the title of the No. 1 prep school in the country and finished with a 8-1 record. More importantly, Harper worked his way onto the Presidential List with a 3.0 GPA and earned an 880 score on the SAT. Out of the woodworks West Virginia, Tennessee, N.C. State, North Carolina and Wake Forest all vied for his services.
Harper, though, shunned all of them in favor of the Virginia Tech Hokies. There were several reasons.
â€œI liked the coaching staff, the environment and I had came up here to a basketball camp before. When I came on my visit it felt like this is where I needed to be,â€ he said.
The 19-year old who boast a 4.5 40 and 250-pound bench press, enjoyed a stellar spring catching three touchdown passes, including a 47-yarder and garnering the Newcomer of the Year Award for the Hokies.
â€œIt surprised me. Having to adjust to the whole college game, caught me off-guard a little bit, but I knew I had the ability, so I just had to take the time and go out there and perform,â€ Harper explained.
He enters the Hokiesâ€™ first ACC campaign as No. 2 on the depth chart at split end but is expected to see playing time as a true freshman.
Stepping on campus in January, Harper was a tall, lanky 187-pound receiver. Presently, he weighs 205 having gained 18 pounds of muscle.
That work ethic has him spurred him on to set several goals.
â€œIn the next two years, me playing as true freshman, then working my way into a starting position. Catch as many balls as possible and see how things go,â€ Harper said.
With the future appearing bright, Harper has his mind set on two long-term goals. First, getting his education and then the NFL.
â€œI have to get that degree. Thatâ€™s a big part of me being at school. If the league calls, then who wouldnâ€™t go. But that degree is top priority,â€ Harper said.
There are several people that have been instrumental in Harperâ€™s success.
â€œGod is at the top- all thanks to him at all times. If it wasnâ€™t for Him, I wouldnâ€™t be at Hargrave or VT. My grandmother, my family, Mark Sigmon pretty much watched out for me. Coach Lowman, Coach Gabriel, Coach Lynch, all the way from the bottom to the top,â€ Harper said.
Although most of his time is consumed with football and academics, Harper believes anything worth working for involves sacrifice.
â€œItâ€™s the life you want to live because itâ€™s all going to pay off. Come game time it all pays off. I mean we open against the defending national champions on ABC and Iâ€™m coming from Catawba County. Thatâ€™s big time right there,â€ he said.
Having learned many life lessons and finding Christ along with success over the past two years has encouraged Harper to pass on some of the wisdom heâ€™s learned.
â€œI try to tell those kids back home to put God first because He always knows what is best and to take care of the classroom because thatâ€™s what coaches are going to look at.â€
by John Mark Brooks