From Las Cruces, N.M., to Cape Girardeau

Thursday, August 17, 2006

When Stevelan Harper and Clinton Jones decided to leave Division I-A New Mexico State, they could have probably transferred to any number of Division I-AA programs.

But a familiar face had surfaced at Southeast Missouri State, so the decision of where they would continue their college football careers became a relatively easy one.

"We both played under him and really liked him and respected him," said Harper, a senior wide receiver and kick returner.

Added Jones, a junior fullback: "He's pretty much why we're here."

Harper and Jones were referring to first-year Southeast head coach Tony Samuel, who held the same position at New Mexico State from 1997 to 2004. Harper and Jones both played under Samuel in 2004. They also spent the 2005 season with the Aggies before departing.

As Division I-A transfers moving down, Harper and Jones became immediately eligible to play for the Redhawks. Samuel is happy to have them on board.

"They'll come in and do some things for us," Samuel said. "They're good players and great kids."

Harper, who stands just 5 feet, 6 inches and weighs 155 pounds, has had an interesting college career so far.

A native of Oakland, Calif., Harper played as a freshman at Division I-AA St. Mary's in his home state. The St. Mary's head coach at the time happened to be Vincent White, who is now the Redhawks' first-year offensive coordinator.

After ranking fifth nationally in kickoff returns at St. Mary's, Harper transferred to New Mexico State. In his first and only season under Samuel, Harper caught 19 passes for 296 yards, while averaging 10.3 yards on 19 punt returns and 18.7 yards on 21 kickoff returns.

After Samuel left New Mexico State, Harper saw his playing time diminish last year as the Aggies went winless. He caught 12 passes for 97 yards, along with averaging 7.1 yards on 12 punt returns and 20.6 yards on 13 kickoff returns.

"I really wasn't looking to leave, but there were some complications with the new coaches," Harper said. "And I knew coach Samuel was here. And I also played for coach White."

Harper hopes to make the most of his final collegiate campaign.

"I hope to be a leader, a playmaker," Harper said. "I'll be one of the seniors that hopefully the young guys can lean on for support."

When asked to describe his strengths, Harper said, "My quickness. I'm elusive. I'm very confident on the field. I do not see myself as 5-6 when I'm on the field."

Said Samuel: "When I was there [New Mexico State], he was a good punt returner and wide receiver. He'll help us."

Jones also figures to help the Redhawks when they use more of a traditional offense with a fullback after the previous coaching staff preferred a one-back attack.

A 6-0, 230-pound Texan who hails from the Dallas suburb of Mesquite, Jones was never a feature player at New Mexico State.

But, after receiving solid playing time as a freshman under Samuel, he had his action cut significantly last season.

"I played a lot under coach Samuel, then my sophomore year I didn't see the field too much," Jones said. "They were going in a different way, so I decided to leave. Coach Samuel being here, it worked out great."

Jones, who averaged nearly eight yards per carry in limited attempts during his two seasons at New Mexico State, played tailback for the Aggies. Southeast converted him to fullback.

"He's a big kid who can run," Samuel said. "He's very athletic."

Harper and Jones -- who both arrived at Southeast for the second semester of the 2005-06 school year and went through spring practice -- figure perhaps it's fate that they wound up in Cape Girardeau together.

Even though they were good friends at New Mexico State, they didn't actually hatch out a plan to play for the Redhawks.

"It just so happened we came on the trip together," Harper said of their official visit. "We didn't even know it until a couple of days before.

"So I guess it's kind of ironic or fate or whatever that we're both here."

Now that they are here, Harper and Jones hope to help Samuel and his staff lead the Redhawks to better days following last year's 2-9 record.

"Everybody is buying into the program and I think we're becoming a team," Jones said. "Together everybody achieves more. That's our motto, and I think it's going to pay off for us."

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