Senior Jacob Harless recently became the first Trinity Lutheran High School football player to sign a letter of intent to play college football.
Coach Anthony Levy said he doesn’t expect Harless to be the last.
“I think he’s going to be the pioneer for us,” Levy said after Harless signed with NCAA Division II University of Indianapolis.
“He’s kind of going to be the validation of everything we’re doing,” Levy said. “He already did at his workout. The colleges were stunned. They said he was the only one that caught the ball with his hands, he’s the only one that understood how to set up spacing, all the little things that we teach. I think he will validate everything else that we’ve been doing and what’s coming up.”
The 2013 season was only the second year of football at Trinity.
“I think he’ll secure a lot of other players’ future interest in colleges,” Levy said. “At some point in time, you’ve got to have a tangible example, and I think he is that.”
At a young age, Harless began playing basketball, baseball and football. But when Trinity started football for Harless’ junior year, he hadn’t played in six years.
Getting the opportunity to play at the college level is thrilling, he said.
“I was a little unsure at first about even doing sports with going into physical therapy. That will be tough and strenuous,” Harless said. “But then once UIndy offered me to play there, I thought this could be a really good experience, and they’ve got a great program, academic and for football.”
Harless’ first trip to the campus was in October.
“It was originally my first choice to go to even without football because of my major, physical therapy,” he said. “They’ve got one of the top-ranked (programs) in the nation for that. And I loved the campus. It’s a beautiful campus.”
Harless and his parents, Katherine and Lanny Smith, then met Greyhounds head coach Bob Bartolomeo, and they were impressed.
“When coach Bartolomeo started asking me about football, I figured it would be a great opportunity,” Harless said. “We talked to him, and they brought us up for one of their games, and we got to talk to some of the players and see some of their pregame and all that. It was just an overall great experience.”
Harless recently made his third visit to Indianapolis, and he announced his official decision to play football. He will be one of 31 incoming freshmen, including 16 signees.
“With the program here being so new at Trinity and to be able to go into a school like University of Indianapolis, first and foremost, the school is an amazing school itself academically,” Katherine Smith said. “We found the most impressive part was they expected their athletes to be student-athletes first. That’s important to us, so we’re excited.”
Lanny Smith agreed.
“It’s just been a development as far as just picking (football) up midway through high school instead of having a four-year program,” he said. “But I think from taking it for two years and then being able to take it to a Division II school, especially the caliber of Indianapolis, it’s going to be a challenge. But I think with things to look forward to and a lot of hard work, it can happen.”
In Trinity’s first season of football in 2012, the Cougars played five varsity games and three junior varsity games. In 2013, they played a full varsity schedule, competed in the IHSAA postseason for the first time and went 4-6.
In his senior season, Harless led with 70 rushes for 435 yards and six TDs; had 34 receptions for 455 yards and four TDs; and recovered one fumble. He also received the Cougar Award.
Levy said Harless played a variety of positions and excelled at all of them. Offensively, Levy felt Harless fit best at wide receiver.
“That’s where he found his home,” Levy said. “If you go and look and you recap the season, you’ll see he really accelerated once we got him out at one spot. But he mentally comprehended all of them, and that’s the key thing because at the college game, everybody is big, everybody is faster, but not everyone is smart. That’s the biggest difference in those that make it in college and those that don’t. It’s just incredible what that kid comprehended.”
Harless said he saw a lot of improvement between his junior and senior years. He’s now 6-foot-3 and tips the scales at 225 pounds.
“I was in the weight room constantly, working out, trying to get bigger and stronger, and also going out with coach and throwing and receiving balls and practicing all summer long,” Harless said. “After getting back out and going through everything again, it was just a fun experience. It got me back in shape and just an overall tougher person.”