Ask anyone who knows KeAndre’ Harper to describe the Arnold Middle School eighth-grader, and words like “easy going”, “respectful”, “articulate”, and “polite” top a long list of positive expressions. The 13-year-old is a church usher, a member of the National Junior Honor Society, has been named to the Principal’s List every year since sixth grade, and is a participant with Young Men of Distinction and a representative of his school in the Science Olympiad.
A four-sport athlete at Arnold, Harper started off the school year playing soccer for the first time. His favorite aspect of the game was making contact without using hands. Football was next on the schedule. Again, Harper says the big contact plays on the Rams’ defense were a thrill for him. Basketball comes up right after football season. The fast pace and close contact with opponents is what he likes the most about playing in the paint.
There seems to be a pattern in Harper’s sports life that contrasts with his personal life. The aggressive competitive nature on the field and court is vastly different from the reserved and studious side seen at other times. Harper knows this and actually works to use these qualities to his advantage.
“I kind of have a different personality when I play sports. I am not the nice person people know because I really like the contact of sports. I start out being quiet and calm and because that’s what the opponent sees, I then get into the other me,” says Harper, laughing.
The 5’10” athlete with the warm and personable manner has played sports since the age of 5 when he started out with Upward Basketball and graduated to American Amateur Union (AAU) play. When he came to Arnold Middle School in the sixth grade, he played both basketball and football. He added track in the seventh grade.
Although Harper doesn’t get to make contact as a track and field participant, he gets a lot of satisfaction from being a discus and shot put thrower. Both of those events require strength, and a little aggression works to help him there, too.
Harper just finished his time on the gridiron and is looking to basketball season. He played his last games of the football season with the same enthusiasm he has had since he first experienced the sport at the age of six years old. Playing three years with the Columbus Youth Football League sent him to the Peanut Bowl three different times. An incident that occurred at one of those bowl appearances made a lasting impression on the young athlete.
“I got hurt on a play. Cam Newton was there. I don’t know why, but it was when he was at Auburn. When I came out after that play, he spoke to me. He told me he thought I was doing a good job. I was just speechless. I didn’t really say anything because I couldn’t believe Cam Newton was talking to me,” says Harper with a big smile.
That encounter kind of sealed the deal on his love of football. Harper has played everywhere on the line and seen time at tight end with the Arnold Rams. His intelligent, logical mind is always at work, even while playing sports. Harper is always thinking about what he is doing and how he can do it better. That type of brain activity led him this football season to make a change in his position on the field.
“I kept watching other players and went to a four-point stance,” he says. “I acquired a four-point stance because it allows me to get off the ball quicker. It gives me leverage. I can get into the backfield quicker.”
Now, his focus is on basketball. Harper is usually the center and power forward for his basketball team, but he hopes to play small forward in high school. With that in mind, he has been working a lot on his outside game.
“A small forward has to do a lot of dribbling,” he says. “I know that in high school, that will be expected of me; I am preparing for it now.”
When he moves to track and field this spring, Harper would like to participate in two more events besides shot put and discus: the long jump and 800-meter race. He wants to master those before his last year in middle school ends.
Harper always seems to be thinking ahead, so he has given some thought to next year. He would like to play football and basketball. Where he actually does that hasn’t been decided. Carver High School is close to the top of the list since his mother is a math teacher at the school. Harper said his father was a high school athlete, but neither of his parents has pushed him about playing sports or where he should attend high school.
Going a little deeper in his playbook, Harper is interested in attending one of four colleges: Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida State, or Duke. Maybe even as a collegiate athlete.
It’s a good plan; one that will hopefully satisfy every part of his personality.
Harper’s younger brother, Kalen, also played on Arnold’s soccer team and football team this year. How did that work out?
“It was very exciting and funny,” Harper says. “The competition between us is pretty strong.”
Columbus Valley/Rising Star/December 2015
Arnold Middle School
By Beth Welch
Photos by Jerry Christenson
Sports brings out different side in middle school athlete