Panther Profile: Kevin Harper

Over the next few weeks as the Panthers finish up spring practice, the Pantherdigest will be profiling the members of the class of 2008 that will land in Oakland this year. You will read several interesting stories about the future Panthers including Mentor's Kevin Harper.

Kickers are said to be a different breed of football player. They often seem to come from strange lands; South Africa, Cyprus, Denmark. Incoming Pittsburgh kicker Kevin Harper isn't quite that peculiar, but he does have one unusual quirk.

While most football players get pumped up for games with heavy metal or rap music, Harper and his teammate, future Bowling Green quarterback Bart Tanski, would instead prepare themselves for battle at Mentor High School with the soothing sounds of Celine Dion.

"Our teammates would always ask, ‘What are you doing?'" he said.

Mind you, Harper isn't exactly collecting Dion's albums. There's rap on his iPod, he enjoys red meat, Al Pacino's "Scarface," and watching the satirical humor of "The Office" on television.

But whatever effect Dion's music had on Harper and his teammates, it helped lead Mentor, also the alma mater of former Pitt lineman Tom Barndt, to the Division I Ohio state championship game in both his junior and senior years.

Along the way, Harper kicked field goals of 52, 58, and an Ohio record 61 yards in his prep career, booted short game-winning field goals in the final 20 seconds of two playoff games against highly regarded Cleveland Glenville as both a junior and senior, and converted 17 of 23 field goal attempts in his senior season.

He is said to have one of the strongest legs of any kicker coming in to play college football in 2008 with 50 touchbacks last season.

For Pitt to land such a kicker speaks well of the importance the program places on special teams. Over the years, while other schools hem and haw when it comes to giving specialists scholarships, Pitt has not.

"At summer camp West Virginia just put kickers off to the side. They didn't seem to have the commitment to kickers Pitt did," Harper said. "You could tell Pitt knows what they're doing. On Junior Day, Coach (Charlie) Partridge (former Pitt special teams coach) was the coolest guy. He knew special teams."

It should be mentioned Harper's comments about the Panthers' emphasis on the kicking game are not uncommon.

Current San Francisco 49ers punter Andy Lee once stated he came to Pittsburgh from his native South Carolina in large part because then South Carolina head coach Lou Holtz was hesitant to give specialists scholarships.

Of course, playing home games at less-than-kicker-friendly Heinz Field may require Pitt to place such emphasis on getting quality specialists to come to Oakland.

But Harper, who played home games on field turf, thinks playing at Heinz Field is a positive.

"If I can show that I can kick in an NFL stadium like Heinz Field it should help a lot to impress pro scouts," he said.

Like many recruits, before coming to visit the University of Pittsburgh Harper was a bit apprehensive about attending college in an urban setting. His parents had gone to college at Bowling Green's more traditional campus setting and with images of Cleveland State running through his head Harper initially believed Pitt was downtown.

"It's not downtown. It's its own little area," Harper said. "It seems like there's lots to do at night."

Still, that hasn't tempered some of the locals in his Cleveland suburb hometown from playing up the Steelers-Browns rivalry to him.

"It's always like ‘Pittsburgh? The Steelers?' I tell them ‘No, it's Pitt." Then they usually say as long as you come back to Cleveland when you're done that's okay."

Harper wears number 39, a rather unusual choice for a kicker. It was the number he wore for three years as a starting center midfielder for Mentor's soccer team, and he hopes to be able to continue wearing 39 with the Panthers.

He reportedly ranks second in a high school graduating class of more than 800 seniors. He will major in business management in the hopes of following in the sales footsteps of his father.

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