Clemson University

Reunion gets pals up to speed

CLEMSON - When their competitions became heated, Boston College running back Montel Harris was never shy about reminding Clemson's Jamie Harper whose team won the sixth-grade city recreation league championship.

But that didn't stop Harper from occasionally exerting his size advantage.

During high school gym class together in Jacksonville, Fla., the 6-foot Harper created a stir when he called his shot and dunked a volleyball after leaping and transferring it between his legs. He then shattered the backboard on a dunk at the end of class.

"I didn't even bother trying to match those," said Harris, who is 5-9.

If you would have asked college coaches or recruiting analysts two years ago which Trinity Christian Academy running back would rank third in the ACC in rushing at this point in the 2009 season, the consensus would have been Harper, who had all the high-profile regional schools clamoring for his services.

The correct answer, though, would be Harris, a recruiting afterthought who enters Saturday's running back reunion at Death Valley averaging 90.5 yards per game with three touchdowns.

The fact magnifies the different paths the friends' careers have taken, partially due to circumstances beyond their control.

When Harper chose Clemson in 2008, there existed the unstated assumption that star back C.J. Spiller would turn pro after the ensuing season, clearing the path for Harper to serve as the starting back this season and beyond.

But Spiller stunned many by forgoing the draft - in which he was projected to be selected in the first round - and returning to the Tigers, relegating Harper to backup status for another year. And now the 6-foot, 230-pound Harper could be in a tussle for the second-string duties with redshirt freshman Andre Ellington.

Ellington impressed as Spiller's fourth-quarter replacement against Georgia Tech with his knack for hitting the hole more decisively than Harper, who is viewed as a nimble power back who excels between the tackles.

Harper, who had 15 carries for 75 yards in the opener but four for 12 yards last week, said he doesn't feel threatened or frustrated - citing his acceptance of sharing a backfield with Harris in high school as evidence.

"Whenever I go back home, people ask me why I'm not starting yet, but I just try to play my role," Harper said. "I'm not a selfish guy who wants every carry. As a playmaker, you always want the ball, but having to have the ball is a different story."

Harper and Harris have known each other since age 8, and Harper transferred to Trinity Christian to join Harris and other friends - including Clemson teammates Kyle Parker and Daniel Andrews - for his ninth-grade year (Parker transferred after that year, following his father, an assistant coach, to Bartram Trail High School).

Although Harper always had been regarded locally as the better player, Harris said he welcomed Harper to the fold. And the two wound up complementing each other favorably in Trinity Christian's wing-T offense with their contrasting running styles; Harper was a "down-hill" punisher, Harris a slasher.

They split carries their junior and senior seasons.

Yet while Harper had assistant coaches from Florida, Miami and Georgia stopping by to visit, Harris only had offers from Ball State and Florida A&M until he got one from Duke, committing to his Blue Devils recruiter - current Clemson tight ends/tackles coach Danny Pearman - before his senior season.

Duke coach Ted Roof was fired the next December, and Pearman - who took a job at Maryland a few weeks before signing day - said Harris fell through the cracks.

New Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski arrived at Trinity Christian a week before signing day and told Harris he would extend an offer if Harris measured 5-9, 195. Harris barely hit the height and exceeded the weight by 1 pound.

Harper and Harris talk regularly, and while Harper is the trash-talker, he is reluctant to drag this week's contest into mudslinging.

The conversation invariably would turn back to that sixth-grade city championship.

"His team was always better than mine, but I would never tell him that," Harper said.

Nor does he want to after Saturday's game.

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