With the NFL Combine looming, Cal wide receiver Chris Harper is putting in work at Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, California, training to prove he can be more than a guy with blazing speed. After a morning of field work at a local high school, Harper transitions to receiver-specific drills with former pro Chris Thomas. When Thomas asks him where he lined up most often at Cal, Harper mentions the slot, then pauses and says, “But I want to prove I can play outside, too.”
When you take a look at Harper, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to another Golden Bears alum. Much like DeSean Jackson, he has a slight frame (he stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 175 pounds; but also like Jackson, when you see his speed in person, you understand why an NFL team would covet him.
Once he gets the ball in his hands, Harper is a blur. He used his abilities in the slot to take quick passes and turn upfield—often whizzing past defenders before they could even register what happened.
After his day of training was done, STACK caught up with Harper to discuss route running, competition with fellow receivers and visualizing himself in the NFL.
STACK: We walked in here (Proactive Sports Performance), and you guys are blasting Wiz Khalifa and joking around with each other. So the mood was light, but things got serious when you started hitting the weights. What’s the overall experience been like?
Chris Harper: I like the connection with the guys and the close camaraderie with the trainers. There’s only about nine guys working out here, compared to college, where we have about 50 or 60 guys working out at the same time. Here, they can tune in and give you exactly what you need to get better. That’s what I like about this program. After each exercise, they give you a little stretch to do in between so you can’t injure yourself. I like that, because when you’re lifting heavy weights—not so much for me because I’m not that big—but when you’re lifting weights, it’s easy to get hurt. So the stretches that they have us do in between are very helpful.
You did a ton today. Field work, position drills, now lifting. How do you get through it?
Honestly, I think of the long run. I think of how it’s not as bad as other people, like my fiancée. She’s going through nursing school right now. She has nursing school, then she has to be in the hospital, then she has to go work out and then stay up all night studying. So I keep that in consideration when I’m thinking about my days. I think about other people who are still in school and have other things to do. I take this as kind of light compared to other people. I just grind though it. If I have extra workouts to do, I’m going to do them and get through it. I have all day to rest because we have three workouts, tops.
We watched you run through some West Coast offense route trees with [former NFL wide receiver] Chris Thomas. Are these routes something you ran at Cal? Or is all this new to you?
We ran a route tree at Cal. We ran the spread offense, so we had all those basic routes that he has us doing out there today. Also in high school, we did the exact same routes. So I’m familiar with them. When I go out there for route training with Chris Thomas and [former high school offensive coordinator] Coach Pep, we kind of work on those things. I like working with Coach Pep a lot, because he gets my footwork right and we do a lot of hand-eye coordination, ball drills and all that. So he keeps me focused on straight football and route running. He gets me better a lot and he’s helped me with my routes throughout my whole football career.
You seem like you’ve developed a strong bond with the other two receivers here, George Farmer and Kasen Williams. How has being around them helped you get through this?
When we first got here, it was just me and Kasen. Then Kasen went away for about a week for the Senior Bowl. And then George came and we’ve been competing. I’ve heard a lot about George. I hadn’t met him before here, but I’d definitely heard a lot about him. He’s a really good receiver. I’ve heard through Keyshawn Johnson and through other players that he ran a 4.31 in the 40-Yard Dash. So I knew he was a fast guy coming in. I kind of like the opportunity having someone to compete with like that. When we go out on the field in the morning at 8 a.m., I like to get in his group so we can compete and maybe smack talk a little bit. I like those kinds of moments because they help me get better as a player.
You guys were doing a little bit of jawing during the tire races today. Who’s the fastest of the bunch?
Honestly, I don’t think I’m the fastest guy here right now. That’s George, just because of the times he put down. But I think I’m the second fastest. When we compete, I’m going to lose sometimes. I don’t like to lose so it gets to me a little bit. We compete and we talk smack to each other a lot. I think that’s what helps us get better individually.
The Combine is coming up soon. When your mind wanders off to the Combine, what do you think about?
First and foremost, I like to pray a little bit. I like to close my eyes, relax and talk to God. Ask Him to calm my feelings down. After that, I envision the things that happened in the past that have made me successful, like certain plays from college that have put me in this moment. It helps me settle down my emotions and relax.
What’s one of those plays?
I saw a sports psychologist the other day and he brought me back. I usually think about a whole bunch of different things that I’ve done. What one play I look at is a play against Washington State. I had an out and up, kind of like a wheel route from the slot position. I caught the ball at the sideline, kept my balance on the inbound line, stayed inbounds, juked one guy and went into the endzone and scored. It’s one play that stands out in my mind that I like to think about.
You mentioned your fiancée as motivation for you. Who else is pushing you through these last few weeks, because your dream is so close?
First and foremost are my parents. They’ve pushed me along the whole way. They’ve been the best supporters that any kid can ask for. They’ve given me anything I needed and have always been there for me. They came to all my games in college. They’ve always watched and never missed a game, whether it be in person or on TV. I give it all to them. My grandpa has been a great supporter too.
Read more about the stars of the 2015 NFL Draft.