In grade school, Drew Harp always played on the defensive line out of necessity.
When he got to Princeton High School, the coaches moved him to linebacker.
“I was excited because it was something new,” Harp said. “I liked it. It was fun.
“I was fast enough to do it. I always played defensive line in junior high because we didn’t really have much size. In high school, people grow and we had size, so I was able to play linebacker.”
It was a position that suited him perfectly.
“If you were going to make a mold of a linebacker, Drew has every single one of those attributes,” Princeton coach Ryan Pearson said. “He’s tough. He’s extremely physical. He’s very polite and very courteous, but when that helmet goes on he has a little bit of a nasty streak that comes out.”
Those characteristics combined with an top-notch work ethic help Harp transform from being a novice to the position as a freshman to a sophomore making 26 tackles in a state semifinal to a senior who was the most dominant defensive player in the area.
Harp made 127 tackles (68 solo) this season – and is believed to be the school’s career leader – despite missing one game and a half of two others with injury.
He also had three sacks and a fumble recovery as he led a Princeton defense that allowed an area-best 15.8 points a game en route to a share of the Three Rivers Conference East Division, a 10-2 record and a Class 3A quarterfinal appearance.
For all he accomplished this season, Harp is the fall 2021 NewsTribune Defensive Football Player of the Year.
“It was a pretty good season,” Harp said. “It was unfortunate I had to miss a game and miss half of two games, but it is what it is. I made the most of it. I had a lot of fun. I improved. There are always things I could have done better, but overall it was a pretty good season.”
Harp has an intense desire to improve both his physical and mental skills.
“Drew is an extremely hard working kid,” Pearson said. “The amount of time he puts into the weight room developing himself and the amount of time he puts into offseason conditioning, he’s one of those kids you have to tell, ‘OK Drew, you have to go home now.’ Otherwise, this kid would absolutely stay there for hours upon hours. That’s the kind of kid he is.
“Not only is it enjoyable for him, but at the same time, he knows that’s the edge he needs to be better than his opponent. That’s the kind of mentality Drew has.”
Harp doesn’t just focus on the physical aspect of the game.
Like all PHS players, he’s expected to watch a lot of film, and he used that to learn about his opponent and make sure he was able to make the right checks and calls as leader of the defense.
“We watch a ton of film on teams before we play them to study their tendencies and look at their guys to see what they do,” Harp said. “When I get in a game, I can see what they’re doing and maybe that can give me a key to what play they might run or if someone might be pulling.”
While the work in the weight room and film study helps, what separates Harp is his natural ability to get to the football.
“He has a knack for the football that you just can’t coach,” Pearson said. “We work with him on certain reads and reading windows and things like that we put on our linebackers, but at the end of the day, Drew is one of those kids who is a sideline to sideline linebacker. He has the speed. He has the skillset. He just has a nose for the football. Wherever the ball carrier is, you’re going to find No. 58 extremely close. He just has an innate ability to read things then respond so fast that he is almost unblockable at times.
“I’d like to say that’s all coaching, but it’s not. He’s just a naturally gifted individual who has that knack for the football that you just can’t teach.”