Eastlake’s Eric Harper turns from coached to coaching
February 26, 2013
By Lillian O'Rorke
New: Feb. 26, 2:28 p.m.
Three days after Eric Harper ended his high school wrestling career by taking fifth at state, he was back in the wrestling room, but this time as a coach.
“I knew that I was going to be pretty sad when wrestling was done, and I wanted to still be around the sport,” he said. “I also wanted to help out the little kids and make them be able to be as good as they can be in the future.”
Like all 12th grade students at Eastlake, Harper has to complete an intensive senior project. For him, choosing to devote that project to working with the Inglewood Junior High School wrestling team was a natural choice.
“It’s fun working with the kids. I feel like I’m doing something actually productive too,” said Harper during his second practice with the young athletes Feb. 21. “Here, I feel like I’m actually helping the Eastlake program, which is something I care about.”
The Eastlake wrestling program has struggled in the last five years, seeing almost as many coaches come and go. In the 2011/2012 season, the Eastlake Wolves were down to only 11 wrestlers. This year, that number grew to 32.
“Eastlake wrestling isn’t as good as it could be, especially how good of athletes we have up here. Our football team is phenomenal. We have a ton of sports that are phenomenal,” said Harper. “I just want to help out the kids that are participating in it and hope that they can go to state and have success in wrestling.”
Harper first took to the mat when he was in second grade and continued to hone his skills by joining the Inglewood team. That’s when Erik Nelson first started working with him.
“In the past six years it was more like he was coaching me,” said Nelson, who also helps coach at Eastlake. “He’s so much farther ahead than any other kid I’ve ever had. He’s very intuitive; he gets every move in wrestling and his mind is always thinking… and I hope that later on in life that he will be a coach, because I would love to be on his staff.”
Nelson was there at the state tournament Feb. 16 when Harper won his final 195-pound match to finish in fifth place.
“When he was done wrestling, he signed the bout sheet, and he just stopped and he took it all in. He just looked around the Tacoma Dome,” he said. “For me to be there on the mat with him and watch him win, I couldn’t ask for anything better. And it will be long time before we see another one like Mr. Harper go through here.”
But before Harper leaves for the next chapter in his life, Nelson said he is happy to have his help in the middle school wrestling room.
“I’m hoping that with Eric here it will really start to kick up this program,” said Nelson.
“I keep saying ‘he took fifth in state this year, he knows what it’s like to get there, he knows what it takes to get there, all the workouts, everything else, what’s going. Listen to what he has to say.’”
During the practice Feb. 21, Harper helped break down some basic techniques, including the power half nelson, a move to turn an opponent on to their back.
“I thought he was really nice and really helpful. He went more in depth, more technique into the individual move,” said Sam Kipfer. The Inglewood eighth grade student worked individually with Harper. “It’s nice getting taught by someone who is like kind of near our skill level – not really near it but he was in a our position a little bit ago.”
Zach Kaufman, 13, partnered with Kipfer and said that the way Haper explained things made them easier to understand.
“I’m learning more stuff from him than I normally learn,” Kaufman said. “Last year was all about basics – that was when I started. Coach Harper has been like tidying the knot and showing more advanced moves to us.”
Harper also played outside linebacker and tight end for the Wolves football team and has not yet decided where he will go to school next year but said he hopes to stay athletic. But in the meantime, when he’s not working with the Inglewood team, he plans to do some Greco and freestyle wrestling this spring.