There are times while competing for the Watterson High School boys soccer and football teams that junior Michael Harper will look into the stands, wishing his father could be there to watch him play.
Eric Harper has not been able to attend his son's games since last year, as he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, the neurological disease has left him bedridden.
"When my dad sat us down and told us he has ALS, it was shocking and depressing at first because I was used to having him at all of my games, and I knew that was coming to an end," Michael said. "Once my family learned what ALS is and knew what was to come, we all tried to do our part to take care of him.
"My dad can't come to see me play anymore, but I always think about him and what he's taught me. My dad is righteous and he always wants me to do the right thing, so I try to make him proud by doing my best."
Eric was a goalkeeper for Westerville North and passed his love of the sport onto Michael and his other two sons, David and Edward. The brothers grew up playing soccer in the backyard of their home near Westerville.
David, a 2010 DeSales graduate, played soccer and football in high school and scored the winning goal in the Stallions' 1-0 victory over Bay Village Bay in the Division II state final in 2009.
"My family has had a big influence on me playing soccer," Michael said. "I went to David's football and soccer games when he played for DeSales, and I've followed in his footsteps by playing both sports."
Michael planned to attend DeSales. However, after his father was diagnosed with ALS, that plan changed, primarily because he could get a ride to and from school with his cousin and classmate, Anita Ferguson.
"I never would have imagined I'd go to Watterson because I grew up with a lot of people who are at DeSales now and I was a fan of my brother's teams there," he said.
Harper was a reserve defender for the boys soccer team last year and played sparingly, but this year he is the starting sweeper and rarely leaves the field.
With Harper anchoring its defense, Watterson had allowed only five goals through seven games. The Eagles were 5-2 overall and 2-0 in the CCL before playing St. Charles on Sept. 17. They conclude league play Tuesday, Sept. 24, at DeSales.
"I call Michael 'PrimeTime' because he reminds me of (former professional football and baseball player) Deion Sanders with the way he's able to be successful while playing two sports at the same time," boys soccer coach Chad Smith said. "He was part of our (Division II) district championship team last year and he's playing a bigger role for us this year."
Harper is in his second season as the place-kicker for the football team. In the Eagles' opening 17-12 victory at Walnut Ridge on Aug. 30, he made a 32-yard field goal and two extra points to account for the margin of victory.
"Michael has a very strong leg for a young kid and he's very accurate," football coach Dan Bjelac said. "He's had a number of touchbacks on his kickoffs the past few seasons and that's been a big help for our special teams.
"Michael has a good personality and he's handled everything very well. I like to joke with him that he needs to get in there with our linebackers to learn to tackle and he laughs and handles it in a good way."
The biggest moment of Harper's football career thus far occurred last year when he made a 21-yard field goal to give Watterson a 24-21 triple-overtime victory over DeSales. He had missed a 36-yard field-goal attempt in the first half of that contest.
"I was under tremendous pressure because I knew that if I missed again on any of my extra points or field goals we were going to lose," Harper said. "DeSales called a timeout right before I kicked the field goal in the third overtime, and it was pretty scary because thousands of people were staring at me wondering if I would make it.
"It was an awesome feeling after I made it, because I went from being a zero to a hero, and I was able to rub it in my brother's face afterward that I had just beat his high school team."
Football team set to face Warriors
The football team will try to even a score when it plays its home opener Friday, Sept. 20, against Cincinnati Winton Woods.
Since winning the first meeting between the programs 28-13 in 2008, the Eagles have lost three of the last four matchups, including 21-14 last year. The Warriors beat Watterson 19-13 in overtime in 2009 on its way to winning the Division II state championship.
With an experienced lineup and coming off a season in which it went 8-4 season and advanced to a Division II regional semifinal, Winton Woods has aspirations of contending for another state title.
The Warriors beat Mason 48-7 on Sept. 13 to improve to 3-0.
Through two games, quarterback Shemar Hooks had rushed for 260 yards and four touchdowns and running back Marcus Davis had rushed for 383 yards and four scores. Another key player for Winton Woods on offense is lineman Artez Phoenix (6-foot-2, 270 pounds).
The Warriors are led on defense by lineman Daniel Cage (6-3, 275), who has more than 40 scholarship offers, and safety Mike Edwards, who has made a verbal commitment to Kentucky. Defensive backs Jerrell Foster and Demetrius Suesberry also have received multiple scholarship offers.
Watterson opened with a 17-12 win over Walnut Ridge on Aug. 30 but lost to Mason 24-7 on Sept. 6 and lost to Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit 16-7 on Sept. 13 to fall to 1-2.
The Eagles' only score against Mason came when Patrick Pirrmann returned a fumble 82 yards for a first-quarter touchdown.
Against Walsh Jesuit, junior quarterback Sam Maglicic passed for 64 yards and one touchdown and rushed seven times for 49 yards. His scoring pass went 4 yards to fullback Evan Woosley in the first quarter.
Tennis team to face DeSales in CCL finale
The girls tennis team was 2-0 in the CCL before playing Columbus School for Girls on Sept. 17 and concludes league play Tuesday, Sept. 24, at DeSales.
The Eagles defeated DeSales 4-1 last year en route to winning their fourth consecutive CCL championship.
Watterson, which improved to 12-3 overall with a pair of 3-2 wins over Massillon Jackson and Rocky River Magnificat on Sept. 14, beat Kettering Alter 3-2 on Sept. 9 and defeated Columbus Academy 4-1 on Sept. 10.
Posting wins against Academy were Lauren Ghidotti at first singles, Courtney Brown at second singles, Maria Jeric and Mollie Godbout at first doubles and Elise Miller and Sydney Simmons at second doubles.
Girls golf team wins MOGGL championship
The girls golf team shot a 164 to win the fourth round of the 10-team MOGGL tournament Sept. 10 at Willow Run, finishing well ahead of runner-up DeSales (194).
Erin Harper led the Eagles, shooting a 2-under-par 34 to earn medalist honors. Also scoring were Ellie Kairis (43), Abigail Meyers (43) and Avery Wakefield (44).
Watterson captured the Division I MOGGL championship, winning all four rounds to finish 20-0 in the league.
"As part of MOGGL, the players have the same experience as any other league," coach Rick McQuade said. "The beauty does not depend so much as to whether we win, but that we play as a team -- varsity and (junior varsity) -- at least four times a year. Hopefully, this lets the players bond together."