Six years. 43 games. Two ACL tears. Sixth-year running back D.J. Harper has seen it all, from the bench, field or trainer’s table. Watching teammates graduate and rosters change, it’s hard to believe Harper’s tenure began way back in 2007. Even though time has passed, the opportunity for Harper to shine as the Broncos’ lead running back has only begun.
“I’ve waited a long time for this, I’m really excited for the opportunity. When an opportunity presents itself, you want to make the most of it,” Harper said.
It wasn’t one of the more impressive starts to Harper’s career against the Michigan State Spartans on Aug 31, and that’s putting it gently. The senior’s night ended with 15 carries for only eight yards, averaging half a yard per carry, the team’s third leading rusher that night. Granted, it came against a top notch Spartans defense, but for a player who’s had the most experience to come out and deflate the hype surrounding around him for the Bronco offense, it’s a bit discouraging.
Saturday afternoon, Harper hid those numbers behind his stellar offensive production: 16 carries for 166 yards and four total touchdowns (three rushing and one 21 yard receiving score).
“That’s what we expect out of DJ, we really do. I think he’ll play at a very high level every game if we just give him a chance to get things started. He’s been running like that since his freshman year six years ago,” head coach Chris Petersen said about his coveted running back.
These touchdowns were not only special for the fact it was a career high for Harper, but the runs he broke off were crafty. Extremely fluid in and out of defenders to a point one wouldn’t know that he had two injury-ridden seasons.
“DJ was running wild and that’s what we want,” redshirt junior quarterback Joe Southwick said about Harper. That’s what Southwick not only wants, but needs. When Pat Hinkel intercepted Southwick in the first quarter in the red zone (his second red zone pick this season), Bronco fans thought this was going to be another tough game to swallow.
In comes Harper, who later in the quarter gave Southwick a slant option down the middle for a 21 yard score. It was Harper who picked up on the safety coverage and made himself available to give Southwick he needed.
The interesting question that can be brought up about the performance is how consistent can Harper be in the run game? Will there be more +100 yard games or more struggling performances?
One thing for sure is that no matter the past injury history, Harper looks ready to be the stable in the Bronco offense, bridging the gap between the post-Kellen era to Joe Southwick’s time.
“You guys see what we see everyday. It’s no doubt that DJ can get the job done. He was a true freshman and he got banged up a couple times. Overall, he’s just a beast,” redshirt senior Jamar Taylor.
The beast has been unleashed this season.