Lineman develops as team leader, new father
When Rowdy Harper arrived at UH in 2010, he fell in line behind the leaders at his position group.
He could look up to veterans like Chris Thompson and Jacolby Ashworth, known for their play and creating Brick Squad, a nickname that defined the offensive line for years.
Now, when the redshirt junior left tackle takes a gaze in the mirror, he sees a leader that young offensive linemen look to when they need advice. When a new crop of freshmen offensive linemen arrived, Harper was expected to take them under his wing by the coaching staff.
Harper is embracing a bigger role on the team, he said.
“My mom has always said ‘be a leader at things,’ so I’ve always tried to do that,” Harper said. “Sometimes it’s harder than others when you’re sucking wind and you’re tired… but I enjoy it.”
Harper didn’t earn his position as a leader just because he has the longest tenure on the team — his production on the field and the example he sets in the weight room and film room endear him to teammates and coaches.
“His work ethic has probably been the best that I’ve been around. You can’t get the guy out of the film room, you just walk by one day and you’ll see him doing sets, just by himself,” said offensive line coach Glen Elarbee. “He’s constantly doing stuff to improve his game; he did nothing but bug me to get NFL film to watch better players all summer.”
Harper doesn’t have to carry the weight of creating a successful offensive line on just his back though. Each of the squad’s five projected starters each have experience with the first team offense. Head coach Tony Levine expects the offensive line to be a team strength.
But much will still be expected of Harper — who, if a right hander is selected to lead the offense, will protect the quarterback’s blind side.
It will be tougher for Harper, who has started 26 consecutive games, to keep up with his responsibilities because he has added some off the field. Seven weeks ago, Harper and his wife, Katie, had a baby boy. Harper said he is already preparing Jax to become an offensive lineman.
“We can’t have him becoming a quarterback,” Harper said.
Some members of the team are trying to help ease Harper’s transition to fatherhood — sleep is still not a guarentee.
Junior center Bryce Redman is Jax’s godfather. Though he hasn’t changed a diaper yet, Harper said he trusts Redman to push Jax to be his best if anything ever happened to him.
Redshirt junior quarterback David Piland has contributed to Jax’s wardrobe by purchasing a camouflage onesie, Harper said. Other teammates have also visited Jax in the past seven weeks.
Levine said watching players like Harper develop into men who handle the pressures of life well is the most rewarding part of coaching.
“His growth as a man, now as a husband and now as a father and certainly as a football player — he’s been a (two)-year starter for us — is why I coach college football,” Levine said.