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April 11, 2012

Harper, Grant find bond through adversity



Choices. Every person has to make them each day.

For some, the choice is as simple as deciding what's for lunch. For others, the choice could be picking the school where they are going to spend the next four years of their lives.

In the not too distant past, Arizona signee Bryan Harper had to make his own choice. You see, Harper had the foresight to realize where his life was headed should he continue on the path he was on.

Through one door was a life that is all too common for teenagers growing up on the rough side of town. Through the other was an opportunity to have a different life and fulfill his dreams.

Harper chose door No. 2.

"Growing up it was just me, my twin brother and my mom," Harper said. "My mom was a single mom, and she basically raised me all my life. As I got older I would see my dad, but for the most part it was really just my mom. Later on as a freshman, I started kind of doing my own thing.

"My mom worked three jobs, so she was never really able to be there. So it's easy to fall into doing what you want to do when your parents are always working - in this case it was my mom. Growing up where I grew up - I come from San Bernardino - and I lived in Rialto (Calif.) a lot of my life, too. Those are two of the rougher parts out here in Southern California in the Inland Empire. So when you don't really have any real direction it's easy to fall into all the things going on around you.

"It was one of these things in coming to Colony (Ontario, Calif.) where I had to look myself in the eye and say do I want to hang around here and end up not doing anything?"

When Harper arrived at his new high school, the 6-foot, 180-pound prospect didn't know anybody.

"I was from a totally different side of town," he said. "I was kind of upset about it at first, but it was the decision I had to make. I just couldn't keep doing the things I was doing, or just associating with the type of people I was associating with. I knew what I wanted to do and I knew that I wanted to play college football.

"When I came to Colony I met coach (Matt) Bechtel, and ever since then he's been like a father figure to me."

With the support from his new head coach, Harper was able to get his life going in the direction he wanted it to go in and that led to scholarship offers and eventually signing with the Wildcats on National Signing Day.

"After coming to Colony I straightened up in school and was doing things the right way - and was just working hard in football," Harper said. "Then it turned into all this. I would have never thought it would have turned into all this.

"I never thought I would be signing with a Pac-12 school or playing college football. Coming from where I came from, there's not a lot of people who do that. You would just run the streets until you graduated - or hoped to graduate. That's what the culture was where I came from.

"So I feel like with what I've done so far, I'm making a lot of people proud."

***

Although Harper was new to the school and hardly knew any of his new classmates, the versatile football player did find at least one person he could connect with in 2013 recruit Samajie Grant. The two met in the weight room and have been "pretty good friends" ever since, Harper said.

"When I transferred over from Carter High School in my junior year, he was one of the first dudes that I met at the school," Harper said. "You can always tell who you relate to, and I didn't know anybody at the school. So it was just good to meet somebody like him."

One common bond the pair shared was the adversity that each of them had to overcome in their young lives. While Harper's story deals with choices he had to make, much of what Grant has had to deal with in his life has really been out of his control.

"When I moved out here, my dad started getting sick and he passed away," Grant said. "Then my mom started getting depressed, and then everyday she was drinking and she passed away last summer."

After losing his mother, Bechtel - Colony's head coach - took in Grant to help keep him on the right path.

"Bryan ended up coming to the school and we started talking and saying how he was a taller version of me in football," Grant said. "Coach Bechtel asked me did I mind if he (Harper) came with us to UCLA [for a visit]. When we went to UCLA we were talking about our lives and how he didn't have it good either, and that's how we bonded.

"Then he ended up moving with us, and ever since we train together all the time. We run together, lift weights together and do everything together."

Even with everything that he's gone through, Grant has continued to remind himself of what he wants the end result to be, and having friends like Harper has certainly helped keep him on his own path to success.

"Truthfully last year, I didn't want to play football," Grant said. "When my mom died, I just felt like that was too put too much pressure on me. But once I started talking to people like Bryan and some of my other friends who had problems, they would explain it to me.

"Things happen for a reason, and you just have to fight through it. They were leading me to the right way, because my grades had started dropping and stuff like that. [Harper] was telling me that he had been through this stuff before and I can't let it get me down. All this hard work for all these years, I can't throw that away."

Grant ended up taking his friend's advice and played his junior year. And after having a solid season for the Titans, Grant has already earned scholarship offers from the 'Cats, UCLA, Utah and Washington State.

***

Having already gone through the recruiting process, Harper has taken it upon himself to help Grant through the sometimes confusing task of picking a college program. While Harper admits to putting in a good word for the 'Cats, he in no way intends to pressure his good friend to join him in Tucson.

"Of course I'm going to be biased about Arizona when he talks to me about schools," Harper said. "But I know how hard the process was for me and I didn't have any help other than my coaches. ... I know how hard it was for me, and that's why I will never bad talk another school.

"I want him to pick wherever fits him best, and wherever that is our relationship will still be good."

Harper added that with Grant being able to see firsthand what the process was like for him, the junior can now use the experience during his own recruitment.

"It's just good to have somebody to talk to about, because it does get hard," he said. "It's not hard right now, but it will get hard two or three weeks before Signing Day - that's when it gets hard. But it's a good problem to have when you have a choice between 10 or 12 schools rather than having none.

"It's a good problem to have, but it's also stressful when you don't have somebody to talk to about it."

For Grant, it's good to have somebody who he can trust to show him how the process works. Sure, coaches, family and friends can have their input, but having a close friend who has already been through the process is something that not every recruit gets.

One thing that Grant does know is that wherever he ultimately chooses to play college football, his friend will still support him.

"No matter what happens we're still going to have the same love for each other," Grant said about the pair's friendship. "So whatever happens, happens."

With Harper already having made his choice to join the 'Cats, now it will be Grant's turn to be faced with a potentially life-changing decision.

Which door will he choose?

Matt MorenoMatt Moreno
GOAZCATS.com Senior Recruiting Editor

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