Hard work paying off for Crespi's Harper

ENCINO -- It appears to be a typical afternoon of football practice at Crespi. The first player to emerge from the locker room is Chris Harper. The senior receiver makes a beeline to the adjacent field. Right then and there, you get the sense that things are far from normal.

There is work to be done, and apparently, Harper is intent on being first in line for reps.

A few teammates walk and talk on their way to practice. Some individuals lightly jog. However, there does not seem to be a sense of urgency. That is, until Harper decides it's time to speed up the process. Some choice words of encouragement follow. He is ready to get started.

A grueling session ensues. The drills seemingly are never-ending -- too many to count.

More than three hours later, the sun is beginning to set. Practice has been finished for the better part of 30 minutes. Most of his teammates are long gone at this point. Nevertheless, Harper is at midfield, fine tuning his skill set with a group of Celts' assistant coaches.

His work ethic is relentless. Unwavering. On a different level from everyone else.

The resolve Harper exhibits during the week in preparation for game day separates him from his peers. That type of sheer determination is paying off underneath the Friday night lights, of course, and has Harper on the verge of adding his name to the Southland's list of premier prospects.

“I let my actions speak for themselves, there is always ways to get better, to improve, that's why I never take a day off, or a play off,'' Harper said. “Nothing in life comes for free. I was always taught that if you want something bad enough, you half to work for it. That's just the way I am.''

The strategy has worked out particularly well for Harper so far. Full steam ahead.

He has been largely, although not solely responsible for the fast start at Crespi (6-1 overall) this season. The Celts are No. 14 in the ESPNLosAngeles.com Top 25 rankings as they head into Friday's Serra League showdown against No. 16 La Puente Bishop Amat (5-2).

“You can see it in his eyes, Chris is a different person once he steps on the field,'' Crespi coach Jon Mack said. “He has bought it to what we're doing here. He's a leader, in every sense.

“What people might not know about him is, he's great student with a GPA well over 3.0. He has no issues in the classroom. There are no roadblocks in his future. When you think about what it means to be a student-athlete at Crespi, Chris Harper if one of the first kids that comes to mind.

“He does all the little things coaches ask of players. Chris is fearless if we ask him to catch a ball over the middle. He can go up and get the ball in the end zone with the best of them, about as well as anyone I've ever seen. He's a great blocker, and to do that, you have to be unselfish. As far as I'm concerned, Chris is one of the best wideouts in the state. Try and find me a player better.''

For argument's sake, the gurus at ESPN rank local players such as Lakewood's Darius Powe, Inglewood's Derrick Woods and Bellflower St. John Bosco's Bryce Treggs ahead of Harper. In fact, by most accounts, Harper has flown below the recruiting radar for a while now.

Westlake Village Oaks Christian's Jordan Payton, Long Beach Poly's Richard Smith, Upland's Kenny Lawler and Carson's Darreus Rogers are also held in higher regard. The same thing can be said about Los Angeles Loyola's Kodi Whitfield and Los Angeles Venice's Gabriel Marks.

“Chris Harper is one of those kids we did back in the early summer that showed real promise,'' said Tom Luginbill, ESPN.com's national director of scouting. “He is a savvy, tough slot receiver that is quicker than fast and very competent in his production because he knows how to get open and he is not afraid to work the middle of the field.

“I would agree he is picking up steam and it is not surprising. He is not a burner and may have long field speed limitations at the next level, but is an ideal short and intermediate level receiver that can manipulate coverage and create separation."

The wide receiver pool for the 2012 class is about as deep as any position in the greater Los Angeles area. It best best explains why Harper works so diligently. The lofty recognition others receive likely serves as motivation.

Harper, mind you, has comparable numbers with many of his high-profile counterparts. In some cases, the statistics put forth by the 6-foot, 180-pounder are better.

With 10 touchdowns, Harper is among the state's top 10, three more than Treggs and five more than Rogers. A 25 yards-per-catch average ranks Harper No. 7 in the state. The total trumps that of Lawler and Payton, among others in the aforementioned group.

Perhaps Mack was onto something with his assessment.

“My goal is to show everyone what I can do,'' Harper said. “I understand that I'm not acknowledged as much as some of the other receivers in Southern California. I'm in the same category though. I work just as hard, if not harder, whenever I get the chance.

“At the end of the day, I'm fine with the way things are. I have to be. It lights a fire underneath me. I plan on catching everything thrown my way and take care of my other responsibilities too. Bottom line, I'm starting to get noticed for the things I do on the field.''

Harper has scholarship offers on the table from several Division I programs, most notably Colorado, Georgia Tech and Southern Methodist. He has been contacted by a number of different schools and has some official visits set up over the next couple of months.

Colorado is the first stop, on Nov. 4. Cal is up next, on Dec. 9.

“When it comes down to colleges looking for someone to contribute, Chris is a no-brainer pick,'' Mack said. “He shows up on our highlight film all the time, he always makes a big play. I think he's starting to heat up right now. Sky's the limit. Recruiting is going to take off.''

Given his family bloodlines, it comes as little, or no, surprise that Harper figures to be heading to the next level sooner rather than later. The gene pool was kind to him.

His father, Mark Harper, was a star running back at Santa Monica (1989-90). Stints at El Camino College and Cal State Northridge followed. Uncle James Harper Jr. was big man on campus at North Torrance High (1982-84) before moving onto Oregon (1984-90). Grandfather James Harper was about as big they come in Wilshire Pop Warner coaching circles. The Venice High graduate helped guide the development of NFL players Chad Ochocinco and Brandon Marshall.

Growing up, Harper was privy to the benefits of determination and hard work. He has not forgotten his roots. One need not look any further than Crespi's record book for proof.

As a junior, Harper finished second on the Celts single-season list for most receiving yards with 940. Devin Lucien, currently at UCLA, is the record-holder with 1,259.

With another year of experience under his belt, Harper has 671 receiving yards this season. He is on pace to overtake Lucien for the top spot on the all-time yardage list.

It appears as if Harper's hard work is paying off, and that practice does make perfect.

Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.