‘Brand new’: After overcoming injuries, Harper bolsters Cowboys’ linebacker corps

Kansas_State_IMG50064.jpg (copy)

Oklahoma State's Devin Harper (16) is boosting the linebacker corps after returning from injuries.

The cast on Devin Harper’s left hand is sometimes a nuisance to him, but it’s no problem on the football field.

Although it keeps him from tying his shoes and cooking, it doesn’t hinder him when he makes tackles as an Oklahoma State linebacker. Sometimes Harper and Amen Ogbongbemiga, a fellow linebacker whose right hand is in a cast, can use the protective support to their advantage.

“It really doesn’t bother me that much,” Harper said. “Me and Amen, we just wrap it up in some tape and then just go about it. It’s really, it’s more helpful because you don’t have to worry about getting hit (directly on the hand), and you can use it as, I guess a tool to make plays.”

Harper, a redshirt junior from Knoxville, Tennessee, has given the Cowboy linebackers a boost since his return to the lineup Sept. 21 against Texas.

With injuries to Harper and others, OSU had a thin rotation of linebackers to start the season, but the position group has become the defense’s cornerstone. Malcolm Rodriguez, who moved from safety to fill a linebacker spot, and Ogbongbemiga lead the Cowboys with 42 tackles each.

“We’re further along than I thought we would be,” coach Mike Gundy said.

Although Harper isn’t a starter, he has added another dimension to the dynamic group. Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles called him a great talent.

“He’s big and strong, and he’s very fast, and he does a great job against the run,” Knowles said. “We really missed him.”

Harper’s cast is a reminder of the setback he faced and his determination to reenter the lineup. After wearing a walking boot during the start of fall camp and recovering from a foot injury, a new challenge arose when he broke his left hand.

“He comes back from an injury, and then he breaks his hand in practice like the first practice when he comes back, and he battles through that, too,” Knowles said. “So you really gotta give him a lot of credit.”

Harper worked toward a quick comeback with support from coaches and teammates such as his brother, freshman cornerback Thomas Harper.

Brock Martin, a redshirt sophomore defensive end, noticed Harper’s dedication.

“He’s been just begging to get back on the field, and working, really rehabbing,” Martin said. “And then he finally got back on the field, and you gotta take advantage of your opportunities, exactly what he’s doing.”

Harper has embraced wearing the cast. A big grin spread across his face when he talked about the collective nickname he and his roommate Ogbongbemiga have given themselves.

“We joke about it all the time,” Harper said. “I hurt my left hand, he hurt his right hand, and then we just came up with Cast Brothers.”

The Cast Bros, as they call themselves for short, played a major part in squelching Kansas State’s run game during the past weekend, prompting Ogbongbemiga’s usage of a CastBros hashtag on Twitter. Harper had one quarterback hurry and five tackles, including a key third-down stop to force a three-and-out in the first quarter.

“Without those guys, I don’t know if we would’ve won that game,” Martin said.

As the Cowboys prepare for their Saturday road matchup against Texas Tech, Harper still has untapped potential. After missing the first three games of the season, Harper isn’t back in normal playing shape yet, but he is getting there, Gundy said.

Harper said the pain in his foot is gone, and though the layers of stiff bandages are still wrapped around his hand and wrist, he is enjoying his revitalized active role.

“It’s been pretty good,” Harper said. “I feel brand new.”

sports.ed@ocolly.com