03/18/05 — Broncos ink Coates, Harper

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Broncos ink Coates, Harper

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 18, 2005 2:06 PM

The pipeline filtering Goldsboro High football players to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association took a slight -- and well-timed -- detour this season.

One afternoon, just as he finished class, Robert Coates received a phone call from Fayetteville State. The coaches had seen game film involving the Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College quarterback and wanted to offer him a full scholarship. Coates, excited by the prospect of returning close to home, eagerly said "yes."

But, there was a twist.

In a classroom at Wayne Community College sat a former teammate -- Ron Harper -- who yearned to return to the football field. Slowed by knee injuries, Harper diligently worked daily in the weight room to rebuild his strength. Coates told the coaching staff about Harper. After another session of reviewing film, Harper got a full ride, too.

The duo made it official earlier this week. They'll suit up for the Broncos next season in hopes of helping Fayetteville State capture its third CIAA title since 2002.

"It was a better option for me because I wanted to get back close to home," said Coates, a former News-Argus player of the year. "I called the coaches and told them we also had a linebacker (Harper) who wanted to get back in school, and play football."

Harper played one season of junior college football at Santa Maria (Calif.) and then joined Coates in Kansas. But his career took an unexpected turn one afternoon in the weight room. Harper felt his knees pop while doing one-legged squats, and honestly, didn't think anything about it.

A couple of mornings later, Harper couldn't get out of bed. The Hutchinson coaching staff released him and Harper returned home thinking his collegiate career had ended.

Coates couldn't let it happen.

"We're more than friends ... we're brothers," a grinning Coates said.

The paperwork quickly arrived in the mailbox. Coates and Harper completed the forms and the deal was done.

Fayetteville State finished 8-3 last season and lost to in-state rival Shaw University in the CIAA title game. The defeat snapped the Broncos' modest two-year streak of claiming league championships in 2002 and 2003. They advanced to the NCAA Division II playoffs in 2002.

Coates and Harper are confident they can lead the Broncos to another title.

The coaching staff certainly thinks both players can make immediate contributions as juniors with Coates directing the offense and Harper at middle linebacker. Each admit there will be very little adjustment since the Broncos' schemes are similar to those utilized by Hutchinson.

FSU runs a wide-open offense with four or five wideouts, and one- or two-back sets. The versatility favors Coates, whose strengths are his ability to see the entire field and scramble out of the pocket when necessary.

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Harper is a bruising athlete who doesn't mind popping pads with the opposition.

Excited about the prospect of playing football again, Harper hasn't lost sight of his ultimate goal.

"One on one, they care about you and that's what I'm looking for someone to work with me, not only in sports," said Harper, who is pursuing a bachelor's in business administration. "You're able to sit down with them and talk to them. You're not just a number."

The 6-1, 185-pound Coates plans to finish his general studies at Hutchinson and then discuss his options when he reports to campus for practice.

"They think we can make an impact," Harper said. "They want us to help bring Bronco football back to where it was ... get those rings."

Fayetteville State opens it season Aug. 27 at home against Virginia Union.