Derrick Harper, WR, 6-2, 181, 4.37, Montclair HS
Over the weekend I had a chance to look at the tapes of Derrick Harper. One look at the tapes and you can see why Derrick is raking in the offers. Derrick plays with a loose, athletic style of play. You can see the confidence he has in himself as an athlete.
He is a big, rangy type of kid whose listed height of 6-2 looks legit. Derrick Harper is not a skinny wideout, this kid is put together. He is put together enough that my impression was that "tight end' is not out of the question in a couple of years. He is a big kid. After the catch he looks like an oversized tailback in an open field situation. He attacks the open field with slashing aggressiveness and can cut well in such situations to pick up extra yardage.
I was also impressed with his vision. On one play Derrick caught a swing pass in the flat but found himself bottled up by several defenders. Derrick reversed his field and picked his way along the line until he emerged on the other side of scrimmage and out into the open field where he turned on the jets. The result was a 60 yard touchdown jaunt where he was largely untouched.
And speed is something that Derrick has in abundance. He simply outruns the coverage. With his height and speed Derrick is an inviting target for a passer with a good arm.
But Derrick's greatest assets are his hands, which are incredible. He has soft hands which he matches up with great concentration. If a pass is within reach, it is caught, regardless of if it's in traffic or out of traffic or at any angle imaginable. If it's in reach, it's his.
The most impressive thing watching the tapes is the combination of size and athleticism. You get the feeling that Derrick is still growing into both. He has the frame to add muscle without losing speed and is still working on honing his considerable skills.
On Sunday I caught up with Derrick and I made these notes.
I had been told by people at Montclair that all of Montclair's Div 1A prospects (Derrick Harper, Brandon Preaster and Gary Green) were great kids. Derrick didn't disappoint. I could have stayed on the phone all afternoon with this personable young man.
After watching his tapes I couldn't help but ask him about some of the things that I saw.
On the observation I had made that he looked like a tailback when he caught the ball Derrick noted that "believe it or not this is the first year I have played wideout, I had played tailback since I was in the fourth grade." Derrick noted that his move to tailback was prompted by a desire to try to get him he ball in the open field so that he could use his running abilities. It worked. Derrick had 35 catches for 815 yards (23 yards per catch) and 10 touchdowns. The 815 yards was a school record. Those stats will increase dramatically this year. It will not just be a case of maturation by Derrick but a result of a change in the offense for Montclair. The graduation of 2000 yard rusher Hanif Suluki will motivate Montclair to put the emphasis on the passing game this season. "Last year we were a run, run, pass team," Derrick noted, "this year we'll be a pass, pass, run" team.
What can Derrick do with an offense tailored to his strengths? He is setting his ambitions high. "I am looking for 50 receptions, 1000 yards 20 touchdowns."
It is possible that he'll do that and more. I was impressed by his superb hands as shown on film. When I asked him how many passes came his way he noted this astonishing statistic. "I caught 35 out of 36 passes thrown to me. I dropped only one and that was on a slant pattern where I ended up with a very bad angle."
It wasn't just on offense that Derrick shone. On defense he tallied 50 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and broke up 8 passes as a safety. However, the most impressive stat on defense was this one. No one ever scored a touchdown on him when Derrick was given the coverage assignment and that was despite the fact he was often covering the opposition's best athlete.
With statistics like that it should come as no surprise that division 1A schools are falling all over themselves to offer this young man. The15 scholarship offers Derrick has received to date include Rutgers, South Carolina, Maryland, Syracuse, Boston College, Virginia, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest with more coming every day. Last Friday UNC was added to the list of schools seeking to obtain the services of this excellent athlete.
So who is his favorite?
"That's a tough one," Derrick noted, " I'm so open and I'm not sure." Derrick noted that in the past he has felt swayed in one direction or the other but now considers himself to be wide open on a choice of school. I asked him if the decision of former Montclair star Rikki Cook to leave Rutgers would affect him adversely as regards RU. He told me that Cook's decision would not affect his choice of school, "I'm good friends with Rikki and it just wasn't right for him but he didn't say anything bad about Rutgers."
Derrick is looking for a school with good academics, good academic support and good graduation rates. He wants a place he can feel comfortable with a good environment and a place where he can play early. "I'd like to be able to play after maybe a redshirt year."
Could his school of choice end up being Rutgers? Stay tuned. The recruitment of Derrick Harper will be one of the hottest recruiting stories of the coming recruiting season and will have it for you here as it unfolds.
Mike Fasano: MikeFasano@comcast.net