Kenny Harper looks to define his role for the football team.
For the second consecutive year, a backup running back stood out at the Cherry and White scrimmage when the team already had possessed a clear-cut starter for its upcoming season.
Last year, it was former running back Myron Myles, who scored two rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown in the 2011 Cherry and White scrimmage. This year, on April 14, sophomore running back Kenny Harper scored a pair of rushing touchdowns at Lincoln Financial Field.
Both Harper and Myles had the challenge of competing for carries behind former running back and all-time rushing touchdown leader Bernard Pierce. This season, Harper will look to spell senior running back Matt Brown.
“We all push each other to outdo each other and challenge each other to get on the field,” Harper said.
However, one significant way Harper differs from Myles is by his on-field experience, as Harper saw playing time in all 13 games last season. Myles redshirted his first year with the Owls and never received a carry in his second year before leaving the team.
Though Harper didn’t record a carry in every game during last season, he played on special teams and found ways to make an impact from the backfield.
“Watching [Pierce and Brown] really helped me a lot because being a young [running back],” Harper said. “Coming from high school, you think you know it all until you come to a bigger program, a bigger school.”
“So you see that college is much different from high school,” Harper said. “The game is much faster, so there are other things you need to improve on. You can’t get away with the same things you could in high school.”
The high school first-team All-State honoree posted 128 total rushing yards on 33 attempts in 2011. Harper also scored his first and lone career touchdown in the second game of the year in a 41-3 win against Akron.
The score for Harper came from a 1-yard run in front of the opponent’s end zone, which is exactly where the Owls may rely on the 6-foot, 215-pound running back to score more often this year.
Each of the Gainesville, Fla., native’s touchdowns in the Cherry and White scrimmage were from the 1-yard line. Harper said he looks forward to the goal line situations.
“It’s pretty fun for me because it gives me a challenge,” Harper said. “I feel like I got to take on the challenge of scoring for the team so I can help us win. It’s a good challenge.”
It’s hard to perceive the Cherry and White scrimmage as a true signifier of what’s to come for the team’s fall season, coach Steve Addazio said.
“I’m really not that paranoid of a guy, but I just didn’t want to show everything,” Addazio said of the game plan. “We had a lot of stuff we’ve been working on [during the spring], I just didn’t want to do that.”
Addazio added that there are several options for Harper to be used this season in the backfield.
“Harper is going to become a good strong, short yardage back,” Addazio said. “I think [Harper] will have a real role as a fullback as well as a big tailback and we messed with that a little bit this spring and it was exciting to watch.”
Harper said that he is prepared for his new role this season as the “big back.”
“On big down yardage – 4th and 2, 4th and 1, 3rd and 2 – bring me in and get the first down,” Harper said. “I feel like I can do it all, but [Addazio] is wanting me to certain things.”
Connor Showalter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.