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Notre Dame Football

Thomas Harper Finding Comfort in Notre Dame Defense Ahead of Road Trip

September 6, 2023

Graduate transfer Thomas Harper was finally able to show off what he can bring to the table at Notre Dame last Saturday as the Fighting Irish faced a traditional offense. 

The Tennessee native might have been flagged for an early pass interference, but Harper showed off his ability in coverage, experience in the quick screen game and also maybe a hidden strength as he blitzed for depth efficiently. 

Harper will be the first to admit he’s embraced coming downhill as a blitzer, which is a part of his game that might have been overlooked because he didn’t do it much in the past. 

“I definitely think it’s an underrated part,” Harper stated. “I didn’t really blitz at all at Oklahoma State. I love being able to showcase another ability that I have. I love it. I’ve been blitzing a lot.”  

Al Golden’s three safety look made its official 2023 debut against Tennessee State and Harper was pleased with how the Irish executed. 

“Man, it feels great, just all the hard work,” said Harper. “We know we can do it, we have the confidence and to just go out there and execute it, it feels great. It builds our confidence.

“I mean, it really just makes us want to go even harder. And knowing what our potential is, it just makes us want to reach it and just go even harder.” 

Confidence has never been lacking in Harper, but he also had to learn a new defense and was limited in the spring coming off shoulder surgery. 

Fall camp was important for Harper to master the defense on the field and Golden has seen his game start to take off in recent weeks. 

“I like Harp,” explained Golden. “I do. I like him a lot. I think he’s savvy, plays with confidence. I think he's starting to settle in, in terms of the concepts and what we're teaching. He's playing faster, so that will be important for us.”  

Harper, who recorded three tackles on Saturday, believes he’s found a comfort level within the scheme. Now, it’s about feeling out his teammates and knowing their jobs to allow him to be more efficient. 

“I’m really comfortable,” stated Harper. “I’d say continuing to understand what everyone is doing around me will allow me to play faster and then communication. I’m real comfortable.” 

Last weekend’s win over Tennessee State didn’t necessarily send a statement, but for Harper and the defense, it was another step in the right direction.

Notre Dame has yet to give up a touchdown in 2023 and stacking productive games is only building confidence with the road trip to NC State on the horizon. 

“Understanding no matter who we play, we’re gonna go out there and we’re gonna play to our standard regardless,” Harper said of what the Tennessee State game meant to the defense. “I think it just builds on our confidence.

“We had a lot of confidence coming in. We know what we can do defensively. We just gotta continue to get better and keep taking advantage of opportunities. No matter who we play, no matter what the score is, the standard is the standard. And that’s don’t give them no points and get off the field.” 

What is the standard this weekend as the Irish will face one of the nation’s most unique signal-callers? 

“We just have to be locked in and then just continue to do what we know we can do,” Harper stated. “We got to stop the run, we know that. Stop the pass. If they throw it up, we got to come down and get turnovers. Tackle in space and just continue to play to our standard.” 

Notre Dame’s defense is also looking to set a tone early in the game by forcing a quick turnover or a three-and-out, which was close to happening, but Harper took responsibility for that. 

“We should’ve had one last series,” Harper said. “It was on me, I got a PI. I gotta be more disciplined. We know that's big. So being able to be off the field and give our offense more time with the ball, give Sam (Hartman) and those guys more time with the ball to be able to make plays and get comfortable. I mean, that's huge. That's what we're shooting for, always, three and outs, getting off the field.” 

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