STILLWATER, Okla. — December has been a good month for Oklahoma State redshirt sophomore linebacker Devin Harper.
On Dec. 2, he learned the Cowboys would be traveling to his home state to play their bowl game. The Knoxville, Tennessee, native will be playing in Memphis for the first time when OSU matches up against former Big 12 Conference foe Missouri in the Liberty Bowl on Monday.
Harper was also able to enjoy a big moment as an older brother. On Dec. 19, his younger brother, Thomas Harper, made his commitment to OSU official by signing his National Letter of Intent to play football for the Cowboys.
“I had a pretty big role in it,” Harper said. “He’d been up here plenty of times and he likes the town and the coaches a lot. Then I just told him to choose where you want to go, choose where you want to be. Then make the best of it.”
Before Thomas signed with the Cowboys, Harper talked about his brother’s commitment and the chance to play with him next year. They never played together in high school.
“I’m excited to see him sign,” Harper said. “I can’t wait for him to sign, so I can play with him up here for a couple years before I leave.”
In 2015, Harper was playing his senior season for Karns High School while his younger brother was beginning his first season on the gridiron as a freshman. His brother hadn’t played the sport before, and his first year was short lived as an injury sidelined him for most of the season.
Harper graduated and came to OSU, leaving Thomas at home to grow into his own. Thomas became a three-star recruit as a cornerback, logging 92 tackles this fall as a senior. He also excelled on the offensive side of the ball, racking up 1,279 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior.
“I think he’s been to all of the home games, and then to the Baylor game,” Harper said of his brother. “He’s been doing that since I’ve first got here, so he’s been to Stillwater plenty of times and knows the area.
“It’s probably a big factor, because he’s not much of a city guy – he’s more of a country guy in a way,” Harper said. “He likes to ride dirt bikes and stuff like that. Stillwater isn’t too different from what he likes to do.”
While Thomas is more of a country boy, Devin is going to enjoy being in Memphis for the Liberty Bowl. He admits he’s more of city boy, but came to Stillwater because it’s quieter.
“There’s not a lot to do and I didn’t want a lot of distractions when I came to college,” Harper said of his reason for coming to OSU. “It’s really the home feeling Gundy and the staff made me feel. They made me feel at home when I was there the first couple of days.
“I prefer bigger, I’m not going to lie. I guess in college I wasn’t trying to have too much stuff to do, because I didn’t want a lot of distractions. Stillwater is nice.”
This week and early next week, Harper will be in his home state of Tennessee. However, he will be about as far from his hometown of Knoxville as he is from Stillwater.
So, playing in his home state will be fun, but it’s not exactly like playing at home.
“It’s nice. I get to play in front of a lot of my family when I get there because they’re close to that area,” Harper said. “I think I have like 20 people coming to the game,” Harper said. “Some have seen me play up here and some haven’t.
“It means a lot to me. West Virginia isn’t that far from where I’m from, but other than that, I’m always playing over here in Texas and Oklahoma. It feels good to play there for once.”
Harper chose OSU, not because it was a large city, but because of the atmosphere and he’s enjoyed it. He was a three-sport athlete in high school, and an all-state selection in football as a senior.
He first saw action in 2017 as a redshirt freshman. He played in 11 games last year, primarily on special teams. His highlight last year was arguably his blocked punt against Texas Tech.
This year, his role has increased. Harper has played in all 12 games, racking up 40 tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He also has one interception.
“I’ve seen myself improve a lot,” Harper said. “At first, I wasn’t that strong. I really wasn’t a traditional linebacker. To me, I’ve improved a lot since I’ve been here because I didn’t play linebacker at all.”
He credited his roommates, OSU running back Justice Hill and linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga, for his improvement. Living with them has been one of the best things about his time in Stillwater.
“It’s fun,” Harper said. “We’ve got dogs and they’ll be running around. It’s just comedy a lot.”
Like most college students or young men, the three Cowboys enjoy video games and bragging about who’s the best. They play Fortnite and Black Ops, and of course, Harper claims to be better than his roommates.
“I think I’m better than them, but (Hill) probably thinks he’s better than me,” Harper said. “Amen, he’s probably the worst in the house.”
Hill has been a good roommate for Harper, so he’s a bit sad to see him leave OSU and pursue a career in the National Football League. Hill announced he’s forgoing his senior season and won’t play in the Liberty Bowl.
“It’s bittersweet,” Harper said. “I want him to stay here another year, but he wants to go to the next level. I’m proud of him and will support him in whatever he wants to do.”
Gillispie writes for Stillwater News Press, a CNHI News Service publication.