MANHATTAN — For the first time since his high school football days, Chris Harper is heading into a football season knowing he won't play quarterback.
Kansas State coaches say Harper, a Wichita Northwest standout and Oregon transfer, is locked in at wide receiver. It will be his only position.
Harper, a sophomore, seems to be fine with that decision, and is showing promise out of the slot. Teammates have already declared Harper a starter, and K-State coach Bill Snyder is looking forward to seeing what he can do during games.
"As I have said before, he has a lot of capability," Snyder said. "He could fit in very nicely."
The reasons for Harper's easy transition is simple. He played receiver before... and he used to play quarterback.
"That background helps," said Harper, speaking with media this week for the first time since enrolling at K-State. "You have seen the coverages and the schemes, so you know what they are going to do before they actually roll into different coverages. That knowledge of coverages, before you actually go out and run your route, is helpful."
Harper knows about being a quarterback. That's the position he played at Oregon until the Ducks turned him into a dual-threat athlete. And when things didn't work out after his freshman season he transferred to K-State in hopes of returning to quarterback full-time.
But when coaches pulled him aside during his transfer year and told him he could potentially play in the NFL someday if he switched to wide receiver, he listened. At 6-foot-1 and 234 pounds, he is an ideal target for a team that has lacked reliable pass-catchers in recent seasons.
"My size is obviously one of my strengths," Harper said. "But I have deceptive speed. I can get on top of a lot of safeties and linebackers. I get a lot of mismatches. I'm good now that I'm out there practicing."
One of K-State's top defensive players Tysyn Hartman — a fellow Wichitan native and former youth football teammate of Harper's — says Harper is easily one of the Wildcats' toughest wide outs to defend.
But he knew that before ever lining up against him.
"With his size, he's hard to get down," Hartman said. "He's got real great quickness and speed for his size. He's going to be a hard player to stop."
Harper still doesn't know all the ins and outs of being a receiver, and has been slowed this spring by an unspecified injury. But he is becoming more knowledgeable by the day, and his health is returning as well.
He is confident about the upcoming season, and has a good relationship with the people he works with on a daily basis.
"I like the fact that even though he has got a nagging injury, he still competes day-in and day-out," Snyder said. "Some guys might take a day off, and he has not done that."
Harper has had a year to practice against K-State's top defensive backs as part of the Wildcats' scout team, and now that he is no longer prepping as a quarterback, his improvement has been more noticeable.
Collin Klein knows what Harper is going through. Klein came to K-State as a successful high school quarterback, but was moved to wide receiver last season because that's what coaches asked him of him.
Klein, who is now competing for the Wildcats' starting quarterback spot, was asked if he had any advice to offer Harper. Klein shook his head and laughed.
"I don't know if he needs any advice from me," Klein said. "He does a fine job for us out there. He works extremely hard and I thoroughly have enjoyed the opportunity to work with him. He's a very gifted athlete all the way around. He can play a lot of different positions for us, and we're definitely lucky to have him."