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Tracking the Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Sunday, January 6, 2008

By Sammy Batten

RECRUITING THUMBNAILS:  2006  •  2007  •  2008

Pirates find a pearl in Mississippi

By Sammy Batten
All rights reserved.

Tim Hatten has been the head coach for Pearl River Community College’s powerhouse junior college football program for six years. During that time about 400 players have played for the Wildcats and more than 40 have gone on to sign with major-college programs.

But Hatten says he’s only had about “five or six’’ players in that time like offensive lineman T.J. Harper.

“Quality kids like T.J. don’t come along that often,’’ Hatten said. “He is the kind of kid that when he came here he went out and got a part-time job at Pizza Hut. He worked, went to practice, kept his grades up, paid for a car … he’s a very responsible young man. You just don’t see many 19-year-olds with that kind of discipline.

“The T.J. Harpers of the world are few and far between on Division I campuses and on ours as well.’’

Harper will bring that tremendous character and some equally impressive blocking stills to Greenville next Wednesday as he becomes the first member ECU’s recruiting Class of 2008 to enroll. The 6-foot-2, 315-pounder from Meridian, MS, made an official visit to campus on Dec. 7 and eventually accepted a scholarship offer, choosing the Pirates over Conference USA-rival Southern Miss.

Harper had previously committed to the Golden Eagles in September, but he re-opened his recruitment when long-time head coach Jeff Bower was fired in a surprise move in November.

The Pirates and UAB quickly pounced when Harper became available again, and he made official visits to both schools before choosing ECU. He signed a national letter-of-intent with the Pirates on Dec. 19, the first day of the signing period for junior college transfers.

True to his character, Harper said it was an academic interest, along with the football program’s success, that led him to choose East Carolina. Harper has an interest in a career in movies. He’s directed two short films, including one for a school project on the dangers of steroid use.

While on his official visit to Greenville, Harper was told about the opportunities to prepare for a film career at ECU, and about the school’s impressive list of former students that includes screenwriter Kevin Williamson and actresses Emily Proctor and Sandra Bullock.

“Academics came first with me,’’ Harper said. “I’m really interested in becoming a movie director some day. It really drew my attention to (ECU) when they told me about the program there and the people in the industry who had gone to school there.’’

But it’s on the football field where Harper is expected to make an immediate impact at East Carolina.

A two-year starter at guard for Pearl River, Harper earned All-Region 23 honors in 2007. He came to Pearl River, which is located in Poplarville, from nearby Meridian. Despite earning all-state honors as a senior at Meridian High School, Harper wasn’t heavily recruited by major colleges.

“The only university that recruited me was a Division II school, West Alabama, which is like 30 minutes away from my hometown,’’ Harper said. “When I talked to the coaches at Pearl River they told me if I’d come down there I would leave with a Division I scholarship. So I took a chance.’’

Hatten said Harper “flew under the (recruiting) radar’’ coming out of high school because he wasn’t the prototype heights for an offensive lineman.

“He just wasn’t 6-5, 300 pounds,’’ Hatten said. “Plus, he played at a high school where they primarily run the ball, so he didn’t get a chance to show how well he could move.

“But he came to our place, and we throw the ball 45 or 50 times a game. People started noticing how great his feet are. We used him at guard, but he could play tackle. He’s just not your typical tall tackle. He’s not 6-5 with long arms. But he can pass block with the best of them. He has no weaknesses.’’

Strength, in fact, is one of Harper’s strengths.

“He has awesome strength,’’ Hatten said. “He can bench between 450 and 480 pounds. He squats around 600 pounds. He’s just a real strong kid.’’

Harper’s power wasn’t much a benefit during his part-time work at Pizza Hut, but his discipline certainly came in handy.

“It was hard, but I just had to fit it into my schedule,’’ he said. “Sometimes I’d leave practice and go straight to work. Everything closes down there by 9 o’clock, so when I got off I’d go home and do my homework.

“The job was just something to keep me busy and put some money in my pocket.’’

Don’t, however, expect to see Harper preparing pies in Greenville. Football and academics will be his main concentration. He hopes to make an immediate impact on ECU’s offensive line at either guard or center.

“Hopefully I can get in there, learn the offense and earn myself some playing time,’’ Harper said. “I looked at their offense during my visit. I watched two of their bowl practices. It’s very similar to what we were doing at Pearl City. I’ll just need to get the terminology down.’’

[View thumbnail sketches of all players verbally committed to join ECU's recruiting class of 2008.]

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01/05/2008 04:17:04 PM


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