Prairie View senior Austin Harper has heard all about the Spartans' 1988 state championship football season. Now, he's chasing a ring of his own.
"My dad played on a state championship here," Austin Harper said. "He talks about it a lot. He likes to brag because I've never been to state. That gives me a little extra motivation."
Chad Harper actually played on the only state championship team in program history. However, Austin Harper says he already has bragging rights over one family member. His sister, Jeri, was a standout pitcher and basketball player for the Lady Spartans.
"Of course, I'm a better athlete than my sister," Austin laughed. "She's too slow."
Harper can cross off one goal for his senior year as the Spartans upended River Oaks 28-20 last week in the first round of the MAIS Class 2A state playoffs. River Oaks won the regular season meeting 28-18 en route to winning the district title.
"Beating River Oaks was one of the main things I wanted to accomplish this year," Harper said. "We didn't get it done the first time, but we won the one that really mattered."
Prairie View continues its playoff quest Friday night at home vs. Amite School Center in the quarterfinals.
"They have a big line," Harper said. "They're not really fast, but they are good at what they do."
It's probably a good thing that Prairie View doesn't list roster positions in its game program. Otherwise, Harper would require extra space in the game program.
To borrow a baseball term, Harper would be best classified as a utility player. For the unabridged version of his positions, the senior has played every spot on the offensive line except center, plus defensive end, nose tackle, middle and outside linebacker and cornerback. He has also kicked off and is on every special team — kickoff coverage and return, and punt coverage and return. If the Spartans kicked extra points, he would probably be part of that unit, as well.
"It gives me a little bit of everything," Harper said of his role. "Playing so many positions helps me stay focused a little better. I don't have time to get bored because I never stay in one place very long."
If Harper could choose one position, it would be outside linebacker.
"Outside linebacker is my favorite," Harper said. "That's where I get to do all the good hitting."
Each Monday is a surprise for Harper, who never knows where he might end up playing.
"It depends on where the team needs me," Harper said. "Sometimes I play more on offense. Sometimes I play more on defense."
While he may not always know which position he will play, Harper can count on being on the field.
"There have been a couple of games that I was only taken out four or five times," Harper said. "Other games, it's back and forth."
With only 23 players on the roster, moving people around is a necessity. Gage Riles and Cole Kinnaird join Harper as utility linemen.
"Austin Harper, Gage Riles and Cole Kinnaird do it all," Prairie View coach Bo Barton said. "They have played offensive line, defensive line and linebacker. They do it all. They are all athletic enough and play hard enough to do that."
Harper, Riles and Kinnaird are the unheralded grinders that every championship team has.
"Those are three kids that aren't going to score any touchdowns, but they are the epitome of what this team is about," Barton said. "All three of them are unselfish football players. Those three probably play more snaps than anybody else on the team. They are usually ragged and worn out at the end of the game. I'm sure they don't have any trouble going to sleep on Friday night."
Besides football, Harper plays tennis, and is going to come out of retirement for basketball.
"I haven't played basketball in two or three years," Harper said. "It's my senior year, so I might as well try everything."
Upon graduating from Prairie View, Harper plans to become a diesel mechanic.
In the meantime, he will continue to pursue a state championship ring. Getting the last word in with his dad would be the perfect way for Harper to end his football career.