After outlasting South Carolina in a wild Gator Bowl, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are now focused on seeking out players through the transfer portal. The latest addition is former Oklahoma State defensive back Thomas Harper, who stands 5-feet-11, weighs 180 pounds, and is expected to see time at safety or in nickel coverage.
Below is a closer look at Harper and what he brings to Notre Dame:
Harper is a native of Knoxville, Tenn. and played at the high school level for Karns High School. As a junior, Harper played on both sides of the ball and actually had a bigger impact as a wide receiver. He became the first player at his school to surpass 1,000 yards receiving in a single season, also scoring 11 touchdowns in 2017.
That success led Harper to commit to Oklahoma State the following year, with schools such as Navy, Wake Forest and Chattanooga also showing interest. He then put together an even better campaign as a senior, grabbing 80 passes for 1,279 yards and also scoring 18 touchdowns. On the defensive side, he made 67 solo tackles, broke up seven passes, forced a pair of fumbles, picked off a pass and also blocked a field goal.
Thomas Harper’s Career at Oklahoma State
Harper saw action in seven games as a freshman, mostly in a special teams capacity. He made 13 stops, including nine solo tackles and one behind the line of scrimmage during a home loss to Baylor. He brought down four ball carriers as a special teams performer and also returned one kick for 22 yards during a road victory against West Virginia.
During his second season with the Cowboys in 2020, Harper saw more action, starting one of his 11 games. Even though he continued to see time on special teams, he began to have an impact on Oklahoma State’s defense. He finished with 31 tackles on the season, highlighted by a pair of five-tackle efforts against West Virginia and Texas. Against TCU he picked off his first collegiate pass and in the bowl game win over Miami (Fla.), he knocked away a pair of passes and recovered a fumble.
Harper’s junior campaign again saw his play in 11 contests though his overall numbers dipped. He finished with 20 tackles and forced an opposing fumble.
This past season, Harper only played in seven games due to injuries. He finished with similar numbers to his sophomore year, matching the number of tackles and also collecting another interception. After five games, he had racked up 22 tackles.
Harper’s availability, despite four years of competing for the Cowboys, is connected to the 2020 COVID-based rule of allowing players an additional year of eligibility, Awareness of Notre Dame’s interest came earlier this week when Harper noted on social media that he was visiting the school.
Notre Dame’s Need at Safety
The arrival of Harper comes during a week in which the need to fill holes in that area became evident. Both last season’s starter in the slot, TaRiq Bracy, and safety, Brandon Joseph, will not be back in 2023. Bracy is out of eligibility, and Joseph announced his plans to enter April’s NFL draft which leaves the secondary in need of an experienced hand. Harper has played extensively both at safety and in the slot.
Bracy ended the 2022 campaign with 39 stops, six of them coming behind the line of scrimmage and one coming on a safety blitz. The tackle numbers were similar to his 2021 effort, with the big uptick coming on the tackles-for-loss. For Joseph, his lone year after transferring from Northwestern witnessed him delivering hard hits and notching a pick-six to start off the Syracuse win.
Among the remaining safeties, Ramon Henderson had 37 tackles, two fumble recoveries and an interception in his two seasons. In 2021, he had the huge task of trying to replace the injured Kyle Hamilton and finished. Senior to be Xavier Watts spent his first full season at safety in 2022 and looks to be an ascending player.
Thomas Harper’s Ceiling
Adding Harper to the Nore Dame lineup gives the Irish secondary an athletic player who has a veteran’s credibility for a young unit. Given the lack of depth in this area, Harper needs to stay healthy to help give the Notre Dame pass defense a chance to compete. That’s especially true, considering the powerhouse teams on the 2023 Notre Dame football schedule like Ohio State and Southern Cal.
Presumably, the Notre Dame coaches aren’t expecting Harper to suddenly develop into a superstar performer who dominates the action. If he can simply provide the sort of contributions that Joseph did this past season, they figure to be satisfied. That could mean that the Irish once again break into double-figures in the win column.