MANHATTAN — When Chris Harper transferred from Oregon to Kansas State, he expected skepticism.
He was leaving behind an up-and-coming program that three years later is preparing to play in its fourth straight BCS bowl game. He was leaving behind a high-powered offense, weekly national TV exposure, immaculate training facilities and all those flashy Nike uniforms.
The program he was joining, which was coming off a down stretch, couldn’t offer the same perks. Harper describes them as “total opposites.”
But K-State was the right fit. The wide receiver liked its proximity to his family in Wichita, he had strong relationships with teammates and he had confidence in Bill Snyder.
Not everyone was going to see that, though. Some were going to disapprove.
Harper was ready for that reaction. Nevertheless, it hurt when his friends were critical.
“It bothered me when it was people I knew,” Harper said. “Those are people I probably don’t talk to anymore.”
With K-State set to play Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3, Harper has been dealing with old memories lately. But he is trying not to think about the negatives that came with transferring. He doesn’t want this game to be about him.
He feels no ill-will toward Oregon. He still has close friends there, including running back Kenjon Barner, and talks with them often.
“I came back for a reason,” Harper said. “I wanted to come home. I could have played anywhere; I just wanted to come home. I definitely don’t have any regrets, especially with what we are doing now.
“If we were already at home and 5-7, yeah, I would be sitting here like, ‘What am I doing? Oregon is playing in the national championship.’ But that’s not the case. We are in the same bowl with the same record and we have more fans coming to the game.”
Things have worked out for all parties since the transfer. Oregon has become a consistent Pac-12 championship contender, K-State has won 10 or more games in back-to-back seasons and Harper has been the team’s best receiver.
He caught 50 passes for 786 yards and three touchdowns this season. With 30 more yards in the Fiesta Bowl, Harper’s senior season will rank 10th in program history in receiving yardage.
He had his moments during his lone season at Oregon, too, becoming the first Ducks player in eight years to run, pass and catch a touchdown in the same year while splitting time at quarterback and receiver.
Stopping him should be a high priority for Oregon’s defense, regardless of where he started his college career.
“I hope I’m a marked man because of the way I play on the field,” Harper said. “I go out there and try to make plays. That’s the only reason I am marked. It has nothing to do with playing there before. It’s just them watching film and saying they have to stop this dude.”
Harper also likes the way things turned out off the football field. He lives with long-time friend Arthur Brown and goes home to Wichita often. He feels like he has two homes.
He is so content with his current situation, he sees no extra motivation in playing his old team.
“I think Chris is Chris,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “He has remained Chris. It’s not anything that is overwhelming to him. He’s got some friends up there … I haven’t seen any difference in him.”
It helps that Harper had a clean break from Oregon. He refers to Ducks coach Chip Kelly as “a great coach and a great guy.” He said he met with Kelly four times before deciding to transfer. When he requested a release from his scholarship, Kelly granted it.
There was no animosity.
Both sides knew Harper didn’t choose Oregon for the right reasons. He felt more comfortable with K-State out of Northwest High, but with then-offensive coordinator and current Vanderbilt coach James Franklin leaving for a new job, he followed his parents’ wishes and signed with Oregon.
They were impressed by Oregon’s facilities and program. They thought he would thrive there. Instead, he realized how much he missed the Sunflower State.
During an interview with The Eagle during his freshman season, he called life outside of football at Oregon “boring” and complained about the girls on campus.
"The girls at K-State and Kansas are way, way better than here," Harper said in 2008. "I don’t know. There are so many different types here — environmental types, weird types. That’s not attractive to me.”
If he could change one thing about his transfer, that comment would be it.
“I was young. I was sad. I missed my family. It was around Christmas time,” Harper said. “I wish I wouldn’t have done that, but I say what I feel.… It was a lot of stuff that was said that was just relative to me not being around my family. Obviously, they have pretty girls out there.”
None of that will be on his mind during the Fiesta Bowl. He is where he wants to be.
“I just want to go out there and get a win,” Harper said. “It’s not about me trying to get revenge on Oregon. It’s not like I left a bad situation and got kicked off the team and transferred. I just wanted to come back home.”
Zimmerman returning? — Snyder said junior safety Ty Zimmerman is practicing again. The defensive back hasn’t played since suffering a leg injury against TCU on Nov. 10. He watched K-State’s final two games against Baylor and Texas from the sideline on crutches. But he has recovered enough to participate in bowl preparations.
“He has done quite a bit of work,” Snyder said.
Does that mean he will be able to start against Oregon? His presence would help K-State’s secondary. Zimmerman intercepted five passes this season and earned third-team All-America honors from some national publications.
“We would like to think he will be on the field,” Snyder said.
Receiver Curry Sexton might also play in the Fiesta Bowl after missing K-State’s final two games with his right arm in a sling. Harper said he is looking forward to playing with a healthy receiving corps.
Recruiting update — The Wildcats lost one of their top recruits to Arkansas on Wednesday. Martrell Spaight, a three-star linebacker who made 130 tackles for Coffeyville Community College this season, signed with the Razorbacks and new coach Bret Bielema during a ceremony at his former high school. Spaight originally committed to K-State, but Arkansas offered him a scholarship and convinced him to switch.
K-State did get some good news on the recruiting trail, though. Melvinson Hartfield, a 5-foot-11 defensive back from Dallas, orally committed to the Wildcats, according to gopowercat.com.