EUGENE, Ore. – Oregon freshman Chris Harper isn’t choosy. He’ll play anywhere the Ducks put him.
Injuries at quarterback prompted Harper’s debut earlier this season. But now that the Ducks are seeing better health at the position, Harper doesn’t want to watch from the sidelines.
So he’s been in coach Mike Bellotti’s ear about more playing time.
“I talked to Coach about everything – punt return, kick return, it doesn’t matter. I told him wherever,” Harper said.
Bellotti has responded by inserting Harper at slot receiver, and in last Saturday’s 31-24 victory over UCLA Harper snagged a 24-yard touchdown pass from Jeremiah Masoli.
Already Harper has thrown for a score, run for another, and caught one – an accomplishment for a freshman trying to make the most of his first season.
Bellotti said Harper will likely stay at receiver now that quarterback Justin Roper is back from a knee injury and a bout with a virus. Oregon has a bye this weekend before a game at Arizona State on Oct. 25.
“He is mainly a wide receiver, but we may bring him in as a quarterback situationally.” Bellotti said after the game against the Bruins. “He has been doing double duty, but he will be making his way full time into receiver.”
Harper graduated from high school early to join the Ducks, who recruited him as a quarterback. But a shoulder strain dogged him during spring practice, and he reaggravated it during the fall.
It was just before the season started that Oregon’s projected starter Nate Costa went down with a knee injury that required season-ending surgery. He was replaced by Roper before the opener against Washington.
Then Roper left the game against the Huskies with a mild concussion. Masoli took over, and Harper got his chance too – he ran for 60 yards and a score in the 44-10 victory.
In Oregon’s 32-26 overtime victory over Purdue, Harper led the Ducks’ winning drive after Roper left with the knee injury.
The plan was to start Masoli and use Harper situationally against Boise State, but Masoli left early with a mild concussion and Harper floundered, throwing two interceptions with his three attempts.
The Ducks turned to fellow freshman Darron Thomas, who led a fourth-quarter rally against the Broncos. Although Oregon lost 37-32, Thomas showed he had a surer arm than Harper.
When Roper returned to practice last week, Harper was faced with reality. He decided it was best to play somewhere rather than not to play at all.
“I can’t throw the ball like I used to,” Harper said. “I’ve seen a lot of guys throw, and I think I have just as strong an arm as them. I might not be as accurate, but I can certainly get it there. So … it’s kind of frustrating.”
Harper, who was once adamant that he would not play anything but quarterback, said he hopes to regain the arm strength and possibly return to the position.
“It depends on how the rest of the season goes for me,” Harper said. “Like Coach Bellotti said, I’m playing receiver the rest of the season, so we’ll see how it is after the end of the season. He said he’ll talk to the coaches and I’ll talk to him.”
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