MICHAEL C. HERBERT PHOTOGRAPH
When I was setting up this interview with Roman Harper, a safety for the New Orleans Saints known for his quick moves and gray hair, I felt our roles were reversed – in football terms, I was chasing him, rather than him chasing me. Fortunately, thanks to persistence – from both of us – we were able to connect. Much like a good play.
A safety is probably one of the more badass positions in football: not only does the player have to block, he has to be nimble enough to keep up with some of the fastest players in the game: running backs and wide receivers.
Harper has always been flexible. As a student at Prattville High School in Alabama, he was the quarterback, safety and returner for his team. Football already ran in his family – his father played for the Kansas City Chiefs. (He retired after he blew out his knees.)
After playing football as a safety at University of Alabama, Harper was drafted in the second round by the New Orleans Saints in 2006. Harper started the first five games, but a knee injury abbreviated his rookie year. He came back in ’07 with one of his strongest seasons ever, with three interceptions, as well as four sacks that are rivaled by the 7.5 sacks he had in ’11. A consistent starter for the New Orleans Saints, he’s been selected for two Pro Bowls (’09, ’10), and was part of the team’s Super Bowl XLIV win. Harper has also been honored with the Ed Block Courage award. Honorees are voted on by their teammates, with the award given to NFL players who are “role models of inspiration, sportsmanship and courage.”
You will be sure to see lots of No. 41 (the same number he had in college) this season – whether it be on the field making plays, or off field at charitable event.
In high school you were a quarterback, safety and returner. How did you evolve into just being a safety in college? I only played quarterback for one year – I didn’t have enough experience. In my heart, deep down, I always wanted to play corner or safety. My dad was a safety.
It’s said the second hardest position on the football team – after the quarterback – is the safety. How would you describe your job as a safety? You have to do everything – cover receivers, make tackles against the best athletes in the world – and not mess up. People see when the back half messes up; no one really sees the missed block. The back line is always in the spotlight.
I am very blessed. I get to play professional football and make money doing it. I’m actually pretty good at it.
Who is the toughest player that you have had to tackle? Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings: He has the combination of speed and power.
Because he’s a teammate, I haven’t had to tackle him, but looking at Pierre Thomas, he breaks so many tackles – he’s hard to tackle.
Who is the fastest running back or wide receiver that you have come up against? Devery Henderson when he was at Louisiana State University. We were playing against each other and he ran up and around me before I knew it. The funny thing is, years later we’re teammates.
In pro football: the running backs on the Carolina Panthers and Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings.
What is your favorite play to make? I like to make interceptions. But the best is when you make a play and you hear the crowd goes “Whoa.” It’s the best feeling.
Who do you look up to as a mentor? It’s the coaches that have really influenced me. All helped me reach to where I am today.
When I got to the Saints, Jay Bellamy [a safety] helped me out mentally and what to look out for – it was help from the older safeties on the team.
I heard you were a die-hard San Francisco 49ers fan growing up. Still a fan? I loved the old 49ers! During the playoff game [January 2012], the biggest surprise was when this man came up to me before the game in a 49ers jersey. He introduced himself as Brent Jones, saying that he bet I didn’t know who he was. Of course I knew who he was – I was a huge fan when I was a kid – he was a tight end who played with Joe Montana and Steve Young. Jones told me that he was a huge fan of mine – it was the best compliment. It makes it all worthwhile.
What is it like to play against old coaches, such as Mike Shula, who was your coach at University of Alabama, who’s now quarterbacks coach with the Carolina Panthers. Hard to say, but in this last game against the Carolina Panthers, I tackled Greg Olsen near the sideline. Next thing you know, someone is tapping me on my shoulder as I was getting up and it’s Shula, who says, “Good job, Roman.” No one really noticed it except us. After the game we talked for about 10 minutes, catching up on each other’s lives.
Tell me about Harper’s Hope 41 Foundation. The group does a bunch of things geared to families, such as after-school activities for children. But I also do more in the community – I want to help and reach as many people as possible. I’ve been blessed.
True Confession: I love to cut my own grass.
At a Glance
Age: 29 Profession: Professional Football player: Safety, New Orleans Saints Resides: Destrehan Born/Raised: Prattville, Ala. Education: Prattville High School; University of Alabama, degree in business management Family: Father, Ronald Harper; Mother, Princess Harper; three older brothers: Bryan Harper, Shai Hudson and Ronald (Ronnie) Harper (I’m the youngest boy), and a sister, Talia Harper. I also have a daughter. Favorite books: The Bible; The Shack Favorite movies: Gladiator; Larry Crowne Favorite TV shows: “Property Brothers”; “Judge Mathis” Favorite restaurant: Mr. John’s; Outback Steakhouse Favorite food: Steak and potatoes Favorite musician: Michael Jackson Hobby: Golf Favorite vacation spot: Los Angeles