By DAVE SOUTHORN

dsouthorn@idahopress.com

© 2012 Idaho Press-Tribune

The sight of D.J. Harper cutting to avoid tackles or bursting through an opening in the line has once again become normal. Boise State’s senior running back has been healthy for more than a year now.

What’s different this year is one simple fact — he’s shouldering the load in spring practices.

Harper, granted a sixth year of eligibility last month, did not take part in spring ball in 2010 or 2011 as he was recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee both years.

“It’s a good feeling out there — I’m grateful to get that sixth year and make the most of it,” Harper said.

Playing a full season for the first time since Kellen Moore was a freshman, Harper posted career-highs during the 2011 season with 557 yards rushing, 10 total touchdowns and 19 receptions. He had back-to-back 100-yard games Nov. 5 and 12 with Doug Martin mostly out of action.

Now, the workhorse that was Martin is off to the NFL, leaving Harper as the veteran presence in BSU’s backfield. The other four running backs on the Broncos’ roster this spring have a combined 63 carries in their career.

“It’s a different mindset now, looking into it, I am that guy,” Harper said. “Definitely trying to attack it a little better.

“I know the system, I know the game, having went through what I went through, I think I’ve earned a little credibility … I think the leadership role is something I want to take on.”

Considering his perseverance through two tough injuries, then seeing Martin emerge as the No. 1 back, Harper makes an ideal offensive leader for coach Chris Petersen.

“We’re expecting big things out of D.J.,” Petersen said. “We know he’s a tremendous running back. We couldn’t be prouder of him — one, what he’s been through and how mentally tough he has been and, two, the fact that Doug kind of comes along and emerges, and D.J. becomes an awesome team player.”

Harper, who said his knee is “definitely back to 100 percent” is in a rare position, essentially waiting longer than the length of almost anyone’s career just to get a chance to be the main back. In 2007, he played as a true freshman and split time with Ian Johnson and Jeremy Avery. In 2008, it was a similar story. He was primed to be the top back in 2009 prior toe his first torn ACL, and before Martin came storming onto the scene.

“I’ve been waiting on this opportunity for a really long time,” Harper said. “I’m anxious to get the reps, ready to take full advantage.”

More often than not, opportunity strikes at unexpected times in football – injuries can give rise to talent waiting to show itself, or certain gameplans finally get a chance to show what they can do. For Harper, opportunity is here after a long, long wait, and his smile when asked about that wait says it all.

“Everything happens for a reason … I’m just grateful to be here,” he said.

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