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‘A lion mindset:’ On the field or in the classroom, Micah Harper is all business

The BYU freshman safety was sidelined with an injury in 2021, but is back better than ever and leads the secondary in tackles

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BYU defensive back Micah Harper tackles Notre Dame running back Chris Tyree during the game in Las Vegas on Oct. 8, 2022.

BYU safety Micah Harper tackles Notre Dame’s Chris Tyree during game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Micah Harper may be young, but he’s all business.

BYU won the recruiting battle for the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Chandler, Arizona, product largely because of its top ranked business school — and because the Cougars gave him a shot to play big as a small safety.

“They (Boise) are big and physical up front. We have to stop the run and limit big plays. As long as they don’t score, they can’t win.” — BYU safety Micah Harper

“Us undersized guys, we have to prove to the world that we belong here,” Harper said. “We have to show that we can play with anybody.”

Harper is a fun-loving, faith-promoting redshirt freshman, but when he’s in class or on the football field, he’s all business, and he backs down to no one.

“I just feel it’s in my heart, having a lion mindset,” he said. The safety leads the upperclassmen in the secondary with 45 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles.

“I just like being back there,” Harper said. “I feel like I get a nice view of the entire field. I feel like I’m in control because I’m giving the calls to the entire defense. I just feel like a leader back there.”

2020 vs. 2022

Times weren’t always this way at BYU. During the 2020 COVID-19-impacted season, when BYU was ESPN’s steady Saturday night date, Harper started five games and thoroughly enjoyed the Cougars’ 11-1 season. 

“I just think that team was a very special team. We all played together,” Harper said. “This year, after we lost a few games, we are trying to figure out who we are, who we are playing for and trying to come together as a team.”

Time is running short. BYU must win two of its next three games to become bowl eligible, beginning with Boise State (6-2) on Saturday.

Sidelined in 2021

In between Harper’s high (2020) and current low (2022) was a gut-wrenching 2021 when he tore his ACL during spring practice.

“It was pretty devastating,” he said. “I felt after a pretty good true-freshman year, I was going to come back and ball out. It made me have more faith in God and his timing and plan for me.”

Harper’s plan included a year of rehab and residency on the sideline with best friend and fellow business major Kody Epps, who was nursing a season-ending foot injury.

“We had many conversations about our futures together,” Harper said. “We both came in together. That entire year, we had to learn by watching the older guys and just know that our time was coming and when it does, we have to make the most of it.”

Harper and Epps have done just that, on both sides of the ball, and while both figure to play key roles when BYU joins the Big 12, they will have to wait until next season to reunite on the field.

BYU coach Kalani Sitake announced this week that a shoulder injury against Liberty has ended Epps’ season. Despite missing last week’s game against East Carolina, the redshirt freshman receiver leads the team in receptions (39), yards (459) and touchdown grabs (6).

“Football is tough. Sometimes I just laugh at myself and say, ‘Man, we are crazy to play football,’” Harper said. “It’s a dangerous sport, but we love it. That’s what motivates us every day to keep going because we just love the game.”

Catching Kenny

What Harper would really love to do is grab his first career interception Saturday night in Boise and then find a way to catch two more to match his dad’s career mark.

Kenny Harper finished his Hawaii playing days with three interceptions — all against BYU’s Ty Detmer just hours after he won the Heisman Trophy in 1990. Two of his interceptions came less than two minutes apart during the Warriors’ big 59-28 win.

“He actually told me he could have had five that night,” Harper said. “He dropped one and said he got robbed of another one when the safety came up and jumped in front of him. It’s his claim to fame.”

Kenny Harper has since converted to BYU fandom and is patiently waiting for his son’s first pick.

“He loves BYU,” the younger Harper said. “Him and my mom know that it’s the perfect place for me to be.”

Beating Boise State

The blue turf at Albertson’s Stadium in 2020 was another perfect place for Harper to be. The No. 9 Cougars dismantled the No. 21 Broncos 51-17. Saturday’s return visit, in potentially stormy conditions and in front of a sold-out crowd, will be a much bigger challenge.

“They (Boise) are big and physical up front,” Harper said. “We have to stop the run and limit big plays. As long as they don’t score, they can’t win.”

BYU’s defense held East Carolina to 10 second-half points and gave its offense a number of opportunities to win the game in the fourth quarter, but the October failures are across the board and Harper believes it will take big plays everywhere to turn the tide.

“I don’t think it’s just one big thing. It needs to be a lot of big things from all four quarters of the game,” he said. “As a team we play really hard. We have good plays here and there, but as our coaches say, the key to winning games is keeping momentum on our side.”


More on Harper

You can see Dave McCann’s interview with Micah Harper Saturday at 3 p.m. MDT on “BYU Sports Nation GameDay” on BYUtv.

If momentum requires a big hit, Harper wants to be first on the scene — and if he can grab an interception or two along the way, the business major may be an undersized solution to an oversized problem — getting BYU back into the business of winning.

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com. 

East Carolina Pirates Keaton Mitchell runs the ball while avoiding BYU’s Micah Harper during a game on Oct. 28, 2022, in Provo.

East Carolina’s Keaton Mitchell runs the ball while BYU’s Micah Harper gives chase during game Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, in Provo, Utah. The Pirates won 27-24.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News