ETTRICK, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia State has named Justin Harper interim head football coach, the University said in a release Wednesday. Harper temporarily replaces Byron Thweatt, who resigned Tuesday to become the linebackers coach at James Madison.
Harper is a Virginia Tech graduate who played wide receiver as a Hokie and also played professionally with the Baltimore Ravens and in Canada. Since ending his playing career, Harper has coached receivers at Lenoir-Rhyne University (NC) and at Virginia State under Thweatt in 2015.
At Virginia State’s basketball game Wednesday night, Harper said he’ll approach the “interim” tag as if it does not exist.
“I’m claiming it. I’m claiming it now,” Harper said. “Going to school in Virginia and being a Hokie alum I’ve got a lot of people in my corner around here. I’m claiming it. This is what I want. I’ve prayed on this thing, and it’s not by coincidence the opportunity came.”
Harper’s top challenge will be rounding up recruits. Thweatt left the Trojans just over a week from National Signing Day, which is the first day high school football players may sign National Letters of Intent.Uncertainty may drive recruits elsewhere, but Harper is confident.
“I talked to a lot of recruits and one of the best parts about it is I know for a fact about four or five has still committed to us. They committed to being Trojans,” Harper said. As an assistant coach, Harper personally recruited many of those verbally committed high school athletes, and he believes VSU has enough selling points despite Thweatt’s departure.
“The recruits are coming based off the kids we have on campus right now. That’s a big plus for us. A lot of kids are still committed to us,” Harper said.
The new interim coach admitted he was surprised by Thweatt’s announcement, but he also said he’s ready to fill the void.
“It’s an opportunity. Anything God-given, you never know. You just gotta be ready when the opportunity comes, and I feel like I’m ready.”
Virginia State Athletic Director Peggy Davis said she couldn’t be sure how long the coaching search would last, and she did not comment on Harper’s chance to keep is position. According to Davis, “I know the team is with the right man for now.”