Six years ago, fresh-faced rookie Roman Harper was pressed into service as the starting safety for an aging New Orleans Saints secondary. “It seemed like I was the only guy in the secondary with under nine years of experience,” says Harper.
Under the guidance of Darren Sharper, left, Roman Harper emerged as an elite safety.
Now, Harper is a Super Bowl champion, two-time Pro Bowler and unquestioned leader of the Saints’ defensive backfield.
Earlier this month, we highlighted how Harper’s Hope 4*1 Foundation is impacting the lives of New Orleans-area families
. Here, Harper talks about learning to become a leader, the former teammate who helped him elevate his game, and how he’s managed to miss only two games over the past five seasons.
: You’re one of the undisputed leaders of the Saints defense. What are some things you try to instill in the young players?
: I’m just trying to teach guys the little things that I’ve learned over the years, and trying to make the young guys grow as men both on and off the field. It really means a lot that guys look up to me. I don’t look at myself as some big hero, or that I’m something special. I’m just Roman and that’s all I know. I just try to continue to be the best player I can be and the best person I can be.
: As a young player, you learned the ropes from one of the best safeties in the game—Darren Sharper. How did he help with your development as a player?
: To have someone like Darren Sharper come on board was huge for me. Sharp was a mentor to me. He taught me how to watch film, how to anticipate certain plays, how to take care of my body and to look at the game through a bigger picture.
Now it’s come full circle. He was the older guy in the room, and he had a young, up-and-coming safety—which was me at the time; and now, I’ve got a young, up-and-coming safety in Malcolm Jenkins, who’s a heck of a player. He’s going to be a great player in this league.
: What leadership advice could you offer to a high school athlete?
- “If you can’t get on my level with the way I work and how hard I go, then you probably won’t be on the field with me for long.” —Roman Harper
RH: The best thing you can do is lead by example. Talk only goes so much. My high school coach always told me, “I want your actions to speak so loud that I can’t even hear what you’re saying.” I go out there and give it my all every day. That’s what speaks volumes, that I’m working hard, and if you can’t get on my level with the way I work and how hard I go, then you probably won’t be out there on the field with me for long.
STACK: Speaking of being on the field, you’ve missed only two games in five seasons. What’s the secret to your durability?
RH: Knowing how to get out of the way (laughs). It’s all about picking and choosing your battles. That, and I’ve been very blessed.
STACK: What’s the one piece of advice you would give a high school player moving forward in their playing career?
RH: As a high school player, don’t worry about going to the NFL. Continue to enjoy your life and enjoy the high school experience. I loved every bit of my high school career. When you get to college, enjoy it, soak it all up and continue to have fun with it, and just work as hard as you can. Put everything you’ve got into it—your mind, your intent—and everything else will take care of itself.