Harper trying to make a name for himself

Being buried on the depth chart is something Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Justin Harper has become familiar with, but fighting for playing time has not stopped him from continuing his climb to the next level in football. Harper, born in Catawba, North Carolina, played both wideout and defensive back at Bandys High School.

In his senior year, he helped lead his team to a state title game. However, Harper still had not fully matured and he took a prep semester following high school at Hargrave Military Academy. After just one semester at Hargrave, Harper then enrolled at Virginia Tech in January to get an early start on academics before his college football career could begin.

In Harper's first season, he saw action on the field in 11 games, but he was not a focal point in the offense and only caught five passes for 84 yards and one touchdown. The next year, Harper's role in the offense continued to increase and he more than tripled his previous output with 16 catches for 295 yards and another score.

Harper experienced a similar kind of role in his junior year, but finally emerged as a legitimate NFL prospect in his senior year. Harper played in a rotation with two other highly sought after NFL prospects – second round draft pick Eddie Royal and sixth round selection Josh Morgan. Despite having to share receptions with the other receivers, Harper finished his senior year by hauling in 41 catches for 635 yards and 5 touchdowns.

While Harper progressed on the football field, succeeding in the classroom was also very important to him.

"I'm sticking around here and graduating in May, and that's the biggest thing for me," said Harper in an interview on the Hokies athletic website in November. "To graduate with a degree, I'll be the first one with the Harper name in my whole family to have it, and that's big. If the league doesn't work out, I always know I'll have my property management degree."

Even though Harper grew a lot as a football player during his career, he was overlooked by many pro scouts because he was always the third option at Virginia Tech and his numbers were not spectacular.

On the positive side, Harper is tall and athletic for a receiver at 6'3" and 215 pounds, and he also possesses good speed for his size. The Ravens decided to take a chance on the physically gifted wideout in the seventh round at pick 215. Not surprisingly, he was the last of the big three (including Royal and Morgan) at Virginia Tech to be selected.

"We needed to add a big receiver to the group, and that's what we did with Harper," said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome following the draft.

Harper will still have to battle in order to move up on the depth chart and secure his spot in the NFL. But unlike at Virginia Tech, he has quickly made his mark on the Ravens and, this past week at the Ravens passing camp, he caught a touchdown pass between two defenders and, for the first time, all eyes were on him.

Hank Nathan is a guest columnist for Ravens Insider and a journalism student at Washington & Lee.

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