Luke Harper has a motor inside that won’t quit.
It’s a motor that earned him a varsity starting job his freshman year and all-state honors his sophomore and junior seasons. When it comes to Hickman football, Harper just hasn’t figured out how to stop.
“Every play I’ll go beyond 100 percent,” Harper said. “I don’t have a problem hitting the switch and getting it done.”
As only the second player in Hickman’s history to start all four years on the varsity team, Harper has been compared to former Hickman standouts, Korby Jones and Jed Paulson for his competitiveness, coach Gregg Nesbitt said.
That competitive quality goes beyond Friday night and begins with Harper’s work ethic leading up to each week’s game.
“I feel I train myself harder than anybody else,” Harper said. “I feel like the game’s decided before I even walk out on the field by the way I practice and the extra things I do. Those things give me the edge on Friday night.”
As an eighth-grader, he would come up to the high school to lift weights. Harper can’t help but feel sentimental when he talks about the time he has invested in Hickman’s football program.
“It’s almost like a second family. All the coaches are like fathers to me,” Harper said. “I love being here every day with them. It’s turned into something special, and it’s a big part of my life.
An interior lineman on the defensive side of the ball, the 6-foot-1, 260-pound Harper has been a catalyst for a team that has given up just 88 yards rushing a game.
Harper said his effectiveness comes late in the game when fatigue sets in for the opponent. Since his freshman year, Harper has spent his winters on the wrestling mat, an experience that he said can only help
his conditioning on the football field.
“Wrestling, essentially, is just football one-on-one,” Harper said. “It’s also another thing I feel gives me an edge. The kind of conditioning and experience of wrestling is irreplaceable.”
Offensively, Harper began the season at center but moved to guard three games into Hickman’s schedule. The roster change shifted senior Corey Hardin over to center, a position that Hardin felt more comfortable playing.
“(Harper) doesn’t just learn his position but understands the principle and theory of what you’re trying to do offensively, so he understands what everybody’s doing,” Nesbitt said.
Whether Harper lines up on the offense or defense, he serves as a foundation for both sides of the ball.
“He’s a stabilizing force because of experience and because of competitiveness,” Nesbitt said. “If he visits with another player, they’re all ears.”
Paulson, the only other four-year varsity starter for the Kewpies, is currently a senior at North Carolina State, where he earned honorable mention all-conference honors as a center last year.
Harper said he hopes to follow in Paulson’s footsteps by playing at the Division-I level but also knows that he will be happy at any level as long as it’s on a football field.
Tonight at 7, Harper and his teammates, coming off a bye week, will play host to Hazelwood East (3-2).
Nesbitt said tonight will pose one of the hardest tests so far for his offense.
“I think they have one of the top two or three defenses in Missouri,” Nesbitt said.
The coach said he is nothing but optimistic about the challenge that his offense will face tonight.
“We’ve been a very good defensive football team, and offensively, we haven’t been as good,” Nesbitt said. “We are improving, but this is going to give us a great opportunity to continue that improvement against a good defensive football team.”
Aside from the X’s and O’s, tonight’s game brings a few additional elements, including homecoming weekend at Hickmanand the Kewpies’ No. 1 ranking.
“When we beat Blue Springs, everybody heard about that,” Harper said. “The fan support is awesome; it’s just another added thing on top of defending our No. 1 spot.”