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Perseverance pays off for Jacob Harpell
Posted: October 18th, 2013 @ 9:07pm
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
For three years, he never saw a football field, except at practice. For three years, he spent two hours each autumn weeknight getting beaten up by his team's first stringers.
For three years, Jacob Harpell stuck it out - and now he's being rewarded for his patience.
The Holy Cross Secondary School grad and former Limestone Grenadier has dressed for every one of the Guelph Gryphons' football games. Mostly a special teams player, he started one game in placed of injured all-star linebacker John Rush.
He'll be back home today, in the lineup at Richardson Stadium when the Gryphons try to complete an undefeated Ontario University Athletics season against the Queen's Golden Gaels.
It may seem an unlikely tale, given that an unbeaten team like Guelph is not without its share of talented athletes, and that all things being equal most coaches would look for replacements among younger players, those with potential to play longer into the future.
One person for whom the story holds no surprise is his former high school coach, Tim Pendergast. That's because Pendergast has seen it all before.
"One of the things I was proud of when Doug (Hargreaves) was our coach at Queen's was nobody got cut," Pendergast said. "Everybody had a chance to develop, so when I came to high school that was kind of the philosophy I took.
"Jacob came out in Grade 11 and said, 'I got cut in Grade 9 and I want to play football.' We said to Jacob, 'Listen, that's fine, we don't cut anybody but we're not going to guarantee anything, either.' Lo and behold he stuck it out and grew. He happened to be a late bloomer."
Pendergast recalled that in Grade 11 Harpell rarely got on the field. "In Grade 12 he started, because of how thin we were.
"He just kind of kept going and going and going, and kept developing. In Grade 13 he started to play well and the story kind of continues.
"He persevered and it's a great story. It's a Rudy story."
The most recent chapter is no less remarkable for a young man who didn't so much as dress for a single game in his first three years at Guelph. Gryphons coach Stu Lang said it takes a special kind of resolve to persist with a program as Harpell did.
"(The season is) long and arduous, even being a dresser, let alone when you're not dressing," Lang said.
In the relative anonymity of the practice field, though, Harpell was quietly making an impression. Lang pays particular attention to those players who comprise what is known as the scout squad, second stringers and below whose job it is each week to learn the plays of the next opponent, so the first team offence and defence can practise against them.
"There's a sense that sometimes scout team players don't play as hard (as the regulars) but we tell our scout team players, 'Hey, listen, you're playing against our first team and we need a good look and a good rep on every repetition so that you challenge the first team," Lang said.
"A lot of these players go unnoticed and unappreciated (but) the backbone of your team is those guys. I spend a lot of time watching what our scout team players do and who sort of stands up. Jacob's play on the scout team, in terms of what he's done, what he reads, what he sees, made us confident that he'd do a good job."
When Rush got injured Harpell had a chance to fill in and, Lang said, he's played "very well."
"Obviously, filling the shoes of John Rush is difficult," the coach continued, "but Jacob's spent a lot of time with the coaches, watching film, getting up to speed. (That position) is the quarterback of the defence so it's important that he understands everything that's going on the other side of the line."
Harpell has rewarded his coaches' trust.
"He's a character player, a hard worker, and he never complains," Lang said. "He leads by example. He's not really an outspoken guy but I'll tell you, every coach would like to have a person of that character in the dressing room.
"Credit to Jacob to stick it out."
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