At 6 feet, 4 inches, 300 pounds, and a fourth-round selection of the Los Angeles Rams in 1992, it would seem that things came easy for former National Football League offensive lineman Shawn Harper. But during a program Tuesday at Hepburn-Lycoming Elementary School, he told students that much like he did on gridiron on Sundays, he needed to overcome obstacles that constantly looked to knock him down and derail his goals.
"You could have all the talent in the world but you'll never make that football player making wrong decisions. You'll never make that doctor making wrong decisions," Harper told students.
During the program, which was funded by the district's Education
Hepburn-Lycoming Elementary School kindergarten through second-grade students get excited during former NFL player Shawn Harper’s appearance at the school in Cogan Station on Tuesday. Harper came to spread a message about bullying, the importance of good character and the power of choice. Harper presented a morning and an afternoon assembly at the school.
Foundation and parent-teacher organization, Harper explained to students that giving in to peer pressure and making wrong decisions could keep them from their goals and dreams.
Harper, who also played for the Houston Oilers and Indianapolis Colts, explained that he learned about overcoming adversity during his freshman year of high school. After an embarrassing incident during his first-ever varsity wrestling match - a match that he won by pinning his opponent - Harper found it difficult to show his face in the halls. But his coach gave him advice that helped shape his outlook on life: "No pressure, no diamond."
Harper explained that pieces of coal aren't able to become diamonds without responding to pressure.
And while most wilt under the pressure, some are able to do great things because of it.
"I think nowadays, society has a negative assertion with failing," Harper said. "If you look at some of the greatest successes, they were spawned from failure."
During his time at a two-year college in Iowa, Harper said the belief he had in himself was tested. After not playing a single play during his first year, he wanted to quit.
"Sometimes transition is tough," he said.
But after speaking with his mother, he decided to stay.
"World changers always focus on what they're going to. Victims focus on what they're going through," Harper said.
And it's during these times that most will find who their true friends are. Many told Harper that he wasn't strong or fast enough to achieve his goal of playing in the NFL and would laugh at his dream, so he no longer spent time with them. He ended up playing for Indiana University and blocking for NFL greats such as running back Jerome Bettis.
"Associate with dream makers, not dream breakers," he told the students.
Telling another story about his childhood, Harper explained how teasing can affect a student. Harper needed to repeat the first grade and by the time he was in fifth grade he was diagnosed with potentially five learning disorders.
"I was teased every day. I was made fun of every day," Harper remembered. "That's why it's important not to tease because you don't know what that student is going through."
Harper told students that as they go through the transition of going to new schools and new stages in their lives, they will be presented with many choices. And the decisions they make will have an impact on their lives and others.
"You are not born winners or losers, you are born choosers," he said.
After the program school Principal Dr. Robert Williams reminded students they were empowered to make the right decisions.
"You have the power to always make sure you're making the right decisions," he told students.
Harper said he tells his message through real stories because it helps students remember it better. He explained that not everyone can do a complex math calculation but they remember a fairy tale.
Harper chose to travel around the country giving his presentation because so many helped shape him, and now it's his turn to help others. He said teachers, coaches and family members never gave up on him.
"They poured into me, and pulled me and enticed me to the next level," Harper said. " The fruit in me is ripe and now I have to start planting seeds."