LORMAN, Miss. (WLBT) - It still has yet to fully set in for Felix Harper.
Entering the 2019 season, Alcorn State’s redshirt-junior had just 23 pass completions to his name and it appeared that number would not increase much as the Braves’ backup quarterback.
Four months later, Harper is coming off of a week where he represented ASU as a Conerly Trophy finalist, was named SWAC Offensive Player of the Year and is now set to lead the Braves into Saturday’s conference championship game. Things have changed that quickly.
“I wasn’t even expecting this,” the always-modest Harper said. “I just stayed patient and waited my time, worked hard each and every day and it has been a blessing.”
After a shoulder injury forced ASU starting quarterback and last year’s SWAC Offensive Player of the Year Noah Johnson to the sidelines, Harper was thrust into action back in week three against McNeese State and has not looked back since. In 10 games this season, he has amassed 2,387 passing yards with just five interceptions and leads the SWAC with a 167.9 quarterback efficiency rating.
His 29 touchdown passes in 2019 are the most put up by any Braves quarterback this decade.
“He did a great job coming and really grew during the course of the year,” ASU coach Fred McNair said Harper. “He’s always willing to get things right over the course of practice and his leadership ability has really grown.”
Harper’s prolific numbers are no surprise to quarterbacks coach Pat White, who saw the promise in the young gunslinger when White first arrived on campus two years ago. When Harper finally got his opportunity, it was not too hard to rework the offense to suit Harper’s strong arm and pinpoint accuracy.
“I saw Felix warm up for the first time and I was lie, ‘he’s the guy’,” White recalled. “He’s a bright young man who you can tell has great respect for the game and he’s very passionate about the game and the people that are working with him on the field.
“They come to fight for him and they’re going to do that for 60 minutes.”
The Braves with Harper spreading the ball around has led to eight different players notch touchdown receptions this season with four receivers this season averaging over 40 yards per game.
That includes Harper’s roommate Chris Blair who leads the Braves with 776 receiving yards in 2019. He has noticed a certain levity in the quarterback’s play this season which has loosened up the rest of the offense and allowed for the team to play without much pressure despite being in the midst of a conference title defense.
“He knows when to be serious but he takes time to have fun,” Blair said of Harper who seems to always have a smile on his face.
“With him being happy all of the time, it motivates us to not be so tight. We were talking last night about this game coming up and he was saying how the secret is not put so much pressure on ourselves, just go out there and have fun doing what you love to do.”
But while playing football is fun in itself, winning championships amplifies the fun and there is nothing Harper would want more than to cap off his coming-out season by leading Alcorn State to the program’s 13th SWAC championship.
“We’re just going to come together and take it one quarter at a time, one drive at a time and one play at at time.” Harper said. “We do that and we’ll be victorious at the end of this battle.”