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Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge

Even in defeat, Alcorn State’s Felix Harper is still Braves’ unquestioned leader

He threw two touchdown passes, but it wasn’t enough in a loss to N.C. Central in the Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge

ATLANTA – Saturday night, Alcorn State quarterback Felix Harper seemed ready to lead the Braves to their first victory since December 2019. His 20-yard, first-drive touchdown pass to Juan Anthony Jr. against North Carolina Central in the Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge seemed to set the stage for offensive fireworks.

“Triggerman,” as he’s nicknamed by his teammates, looked to pick up where he left off in 2019 as the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Offensive Player of the Year. His stat line didn’t look bad – two touchdown passes for 154 yards, no interceptions – but N.C. Central won 23-14 behind a consistent running attack and stingy defense.

“[There were] a lot of missed opportunities,” said Harper. “We didn’t come together as a team to get the job done, so we gotta go back and watch it tomorrow and try to see the missed opportunities that we had that we should have made.”

Alcorn State coach Fred McNair agreed. “They competed. They played their butts off. We just gotta take some of the good things that we did and make them better and correct the things we did wrong.” 

Harper, who got his nickname because of his ability to release the ball with speed and accuracy, almost didn’t get a chance to play football. His mother, Tamara, wasn’t always for it.

“What’s crazy is I didn’t think I wanted him to play football,” she said, “but a friend of ours, like you see [him playing now] was just running around freestyling with other kids at a game and he was, like, you need to put him in football. So we put him in football and it just came naturally as far as throwing and all the stuff that comes with football.”

That natural ability particularly got noticed in high school.

A Fairburn, Georgia, native, Harper was an outstanding quarterback at Creekside High School. By the time he was a senior, he had offers from nine schools, including Army, Campbell, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Eastern Kentucky, Savannah State, South Alabama and Southern Illinois. He finished his high school football career with 10,122 passing yards, a 72% completion percentage, 540 yards rushing and 103 touchdowns.

He is the oldest of three children. His sister, Taylor, plays tennis at Shorter University in Rome, Georgia, and his brother, Fenix, plays football at Creekside High School. “He got a lot of big shoes to fill going to that high school from what I did,” said Harper.

Harper, who is on this season’s watch list for Black College Player of the Year and the Walter Payton Award, entered Alcorn in 2016 and is now a redshirt senior. His senior year of high school, he was named top quarterback of his class at the Army Football prospect camp. Originally, he verbally committed to Army in August 2015, decommitted in December and committed to Alcorn on Jan. 30, 2016. “We’re not military parents or anything. When it boiled down to it, he did not want to dial himself into the requirements of the full military,” said his father, Felixmeuon Harper Sr.

His interest in attending Alcorn came from his father. “Talking to my dad, he was just informing me that, ‘You know who went there? The big-time Steve McNair,’ so I did research on Steve McNair, saw what he did for his university and also the other legends, Donald Driver, as well,” he said. Now, Harper is being coached by McNair’s older brother, Fred, who also played quarterback.

Much like Steve McNair, Harper has become a favorite with students and alumni as well. “[He is the] best quarterback in the SWAC, hands down,” said alumnus Tony McNeal of Mobile, Alabama. “By far, the best quarterback in the SWAC and he will go on to the NFL.”

An interest in Alcorn was not the only thing that his father passed down to him. Harper is currently pursuing a master’s degree in business administration and has a clothing brand called FelixMeuon, named after both of them. His father dreamed of becoming a fashion designer and founded the clothing brand in the 1990s. In 2013, Harper decided that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and pick up the business. “My senior year of high school, he was like, ‘Man, the fashion is changing … I think we should bring back the brand, and it would be big-time for you on another platform more than football,’ ” Harper said.

As the senior quarterback, Harper puts a strong emphasis on how he is a leader for his teammates, family, community and around campus. He is No. 10 on the spring 2020 line of the Gamma Pi Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.

“It was great joining that fraternity. Me being the guy who I am, I lead by example, so I try to help others to lead by example as well,” he said of joining the bond of the fraternity.

Like the rest of the world, Alcorn decided to be cautious in 2020 and take a break from the season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Returning to play this season, the expectations for Triggerman were high.

“Felix is a great player, as you already know. [He has] great field observation, great leadership on the field, ability to dissect the defense and find a weakness and seems to always find an open man,” said Alcorn State’s senior associate athletic director Cyrus Russ. “I think he has assumed the mantle of leadership and recognizes that he is expected to be a team leader.” 

After 33 touchdowns, six rushing scores and throwing for 2,954 yards in 2019, Harper and Alcorn State were chomping at the bit to start their fall season at the Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge.

He knows he has his family and team behind him. His mother, who graduated from Morris Brown College in Atlanta, where she was a dancer with the famed Marching Wolverines Band, said it is Harper’s work ethic that she’s most proud of.

“You have to want to do it. And he stayed focused. And I told him his scholarship was his job. And you have to maintain it. What are you going to do to keep your job as far as your grades? So it’s an opportunity and I told him to take advantage of it.”

Despite the outcome of the game, Harper is looking forward to getting back on the field and make adjustments based on what the team learned from the game against N.C. Central.

The season continues in two weeks when the Braves next play Sept. 11 against Northwestern State. They open SWAC play against Arkansas Pine-Bluff on Sept. 23.

Win or lose, Harper’s passion for football is evident through his drive, competitive spirit and focus on improving.

A senior broadcast journalism major from Orange County, Calif., Sarah Jones-Smith writes for The Hilltop, Howard University’s student newspaper, and her writing has been published by The Los Angeles Wave, and more.