Something to Prove

CLEMSON – For the last four years, Cullen Harper has for the most part been irrelevant in the game of football. During that time, which includes his senior year of high school, he's seen action in just seven games.

However, the time has finally arrived for Harper to reintroduce himself to the football world.

But there won't be a gradual reemergence. Rather, he is being thrust into one of the most difficult situation for anyone, let alone someone who hasn't started a game at quarterback since the second game of his senior season in high school.

Harper, a redshirt junior, will lead the Tigers against No. 19 Florida State Monday night on national television at Memorial Stadium. No quarterback in Clemson history has beaten a top 20 team in his first collegiate start.

Not surprisingly, Harper isn't the least bit daunted by that stat. He honestly believes Clemson can beat the Seminoles with him leading the way.

"I think we're going to go out and I think we're going to surprise some people," he said. "I think we've looked very good this preseason, and obviously there's a big difference between looking good in practice and looking good in games.

"But I think we have the talent and I think we have everything that it takes to be successful and we've just got to translate that from the practice field to the football field."

Listening to him speak, an air of confidence radiates in every word he says. What you see and hear is what you get. He's not one to fake an answer or hide his feelings.

There is no doubt in Harper's mind that he's the person best capable of leading the Clemson football team to a successful season as quarterback. In fact, he thought he was the right person from the job last year, too.

"Oh, yeah, definitely," he said. "Obviously I wanted to play last year and I felt like I could help the team, but it was up to the coaches and I had to live with that."

Though he only saw action in four games last season backing up starter Will Proctor, his numbers back up what he says. He completed 14-of-20 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.

Granted, those numbers came against weak competition, but also keep in mind that he was playing with the second and third teamers alongside of him.

"I knew I had the talent to play here," he said. "I knew it was going to be a matter of when, not if. I knew I had to be patient and I went through some adversity with that. But I knew I would eventually play here, whether it was my redshirt sophomore year or my redshirt junior year."

Nonetheless, Harper was relegated to basic obscurity on the bench, while Proctor struggled to win and handle the pressure of the media. It turned out to be a good learning experience for Harper, who was able to witness what was occurring and soak it all in.

"I definitely learned from what happened to him last year," Harper said. "He had a great start to the season and things kind of went south. I think you just have to be careful to who you're listening to and not take things at a personal level and just kind of take everything with a grain of salt.

"I think you have to be able to brush things off, because there's going to be criticism no matter how good you are or how bad you are. If you're going to be successful, you have to be able to brush that off."

Proctor let all the outside pressure of the media get to him. He wasn't able to keep from letting the negativity affect his play. Harper says that won't be a problem.

"If somebody writes a newspaper article or something, I'll definitely take a look at it, but as far as message boards, I don't get on there," he said. "I stay away from those. But I'll read an article and see what someone has to say, but it doesn't mean I take it to heart or anything. I don't think things are ever what they seem."

One reason why Harper will probably live up to his word and not let any negativity alter his play is because he's already got an attitude of it being him against the world. Ever since he hurt his leg in high school, people have doubted his ability to be a quarterback.

Even at Clemson, many observers thought he would never play and would have to transfer if he ever wanted to see the field as a college quarterback. He was forced to sit behind Proctor and when hotshot, high school recruit Willy Korn signed, most just felt that was the death nail for Harper.

Right from the very first spring practice, Harper displayed an edge. He didn't appreciate the fact that everyone, especially the fans, were automatically anointing Korn as the starter.

"Obviously I have a chip on my shoulder because ever since I got here, I've never been the one people talk about," Harper said. "Obviously, I probably have a chip on my shoulder because of that."

His carried that chip throughout the spring and summer and into fall camp, while at the same time displaying the type of passing skills the Tigers so sorely lacked last season. And as a result, he will get his shot to prove his worth.

Though he expects many defenses to do what they did to Proctor last year and stuff eight defenders close to the line of scrimmage to stop the run and force him to beat them with his throwing arm. Proctor couldn't do it, but Harper is confident he can because of his stronger arm and higher accuracy.

"I'm sure they will (put eight players in the box) with an unproven quarterback," Harper said. "That's what I would do. But we've got to make them pay for doing that. … I think there will be some more downfield throws. With my arm, I think we can do that."

Harper has never had anything given to him on the field as there have always been too many doubters and naysayers. And there's little doubt that the first time he makes a mistake or has a bad pass, thousands of folks will be screaming for Korn to play.

When that occurs, it won't bother Harper. He's used to it by now. It will only make him more intent on displaying his ability. Besides, he knows this is his one and only shot. If this goes bad, there are no more chances.

"I feel like I'm at the stage of my career where it's time for me to step up and become a player for this team," he said. "For the past three years, I've been preparing for this moment."

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