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April 15, 2008Often the talk about position battles on the University of Southern California football team centers around which 5-star player will reach his potential or which 4-star can step-up and prove himself. But on Saturday afternoon at Howard Jones Field, when the first-team defense dropped into its nickel package, a no-star cornerback trotted into the defensive huddle, next to guys like Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Everson Griffen. And, surprisingly, Daniel Harper played like he belonged.
"I was so pumped for him," secondary coach Rocky Seto said. "He did a nice job battling and competing."
Every time that Harper came off the field his coaches and teammates were slapping him on the back, but the freshman from Rancho Cucamonga just acted like it was business as usual.
"I was just grateful to have the opportunity to get out there and compete a little bit," Harper said. "I've been to a lot of meetings and countless hours watching tape and talking about things, I think (Seto) was happy to see that those things are beginning to translate on to the field. I've made a lot of improvements and I think he's happy for me."
Many of the injured Trojans have talked about getting in their "mental reps" this spring when they can't play, and, as a walk-on with limited reps, Harper has been doing the same.
"Film translates to the field, and that has prepared me to come out here," Harper said. "The opportunity that I had when I first got here in the fall was to learn and watch film. And now that spring has come my opportunity is to take what I've learned and use it.
"I'm trying to work my way up the depth chart, and I think that I've done alright and I'm happy with that."
While he may not have the measurables of some of the other cornerbacks, Seto said his attitude fits right in with that of the defensive backs.
"He's a walk-on kid that came to us, and right from the get-go we could see that he's got a serious demeanor about him," Seto said. "He's really serious about elevating his game and his standings on the team, and I'm really proud of him.
"He's done a really nice job of maximizing his turns."
Ultimately, the odds are stacked against Harper. He faces a daunting challenge of constantly having to fight his way from the bottom of the depth chart, but that's not going to keep him from trying.
"I'm the type of person who is never happy being complacent or satisfied with my achievements, so I want to get better and better," he said. "There's never going to be a time in my football career where I'm not striving to get better.
"I'm still learning and still working as hard as I can and we'll see where it takes me."
Seto knows a thing or two about working up a depth chart, as he was once a walk-on for the Trojans.
"I'll tell you, I walked on here and there've been numerous walk-ons that have gone on to play for us," Seto said. "Our punter was a walk-on, we've had them go down on kick-off and special teams.
"Back in Kris Richards day, Kevin Arbet, the other starting corner, was a former walk-on.
"So yeah, we'll get as much as he can give us. If he's able to give us that much, we'll take it as far as we can."
Harper, who put on his finest showing as a Trojan in front of his family Saturday, wants what every other USC football player wants: what's best for the team.
"Honestly, I just want to help the defense out anyway possible," he said. "Whether that's coming in on the nickel situations or special teams, I'm busting my butt to make as big of an impact as I can for this team."