The North County Christian football team is getting help from an unlikely source in preparation for the upcoming season.
Cal Poly Hall of Famer Joe Harper, coach of the Mustangs’ 1980 Division II national championship team and the winningest coach in school history, has been a regular at team practices since preseason camp opened.
“I was ecstatic when I heard he would be helping us out,” North County Christian head coach Matt Wilson said. “Just to have that kind of experience and knowledge as a resource is unbelievable.”
What might be just as unbelievable is the way in which Harper came to help out the team.
North County Christian athletic director Larry Halderman was a student at Cal Poly when Harper was leading the Mustangs to a national championship.
“I remembered him from my time at Cal Poly,” Halderman said. “He and his wife attend the church where we go, and I’ve crossed paths with him from time to time.”
One of those run-ins was at a local supermarket where Halderman was buying groceries. He approached Harper about getting back into the game and explained North County Christian’s situation.
Coming off a one-win season in 2009 and having lost last year’s leading rusher and receiver, Wilson, a first-year coach, was taking over a team that looked as if it needed as much help as it could get.
“(Harper) seemed interested, he came out and watched a highlight video of the team while I was out of town for a while,” Halderman said. “When I got back, I found the video in my (school office) box with his phone number attached.”
Harper is not considered an official assistant coach and will have no role with the team when it comes to calling plays or game planning for future opponents.
He said he doesn’t plan on attending any Crusaders games because the 8-man team regularly plays on Fridays and Saturdays, which would conflict with his broadcasting of Cal Poly football games on ESPN Radio 1280 AM.
“I’m not coaching,” Harper said. “I’m just observing and contributing a little bit.”
Wilson said that Harper is working mostly with linemen.
“They’re working on just the fundamental stuff,” Wilson said. “Blocking and tackling. That’s basically the core of football right there.”
While Harper acknowledged that it was pleasant to work with players who were playing football more for the love of the game than trying to earn college scholarships, he said that the team wants to get back to a winning tradition that includes a Southern Section Division II semifinal berth in 2008.
“I assume they want to win,” Harper said. “That’s why they’re out here and working this hard. So it’s not just recreational.”
Halderman and Wilson both said that Harper would likely not want any of the credit for the team’s potential turnaround, and Harper echoed the sentiment.
“I’m not doing squat really,” Harper said. “It’s everyone else doing the work.”