Meet Kelly Harper, the doctor behind the Lone Star alumni playing college football

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There is a board proudly displayed in Frisco Lone Star’s field house listing all the alumni who’ve graduated to play college football. It’s running out of open slots. 

Behind each of the 47 names from the Class of 2018 onward is a story of Dr. Kelly Harper, Lone Star’s academic advisor and recruiting coordinator, bending backward to help them reach the next level. Take former Oklahoma wide receiver Marvin Mims. Mims etched his name into the Texas high school record books his senior year in 2019 when he compiled 2,629 receiving yards and 32 touchdowns. Then he enrolled at Oklahoma in January, enjoyed a stellar career, and now plays for the Denver Broncos. Bing, bang, boom.

It doesn’t happen like that without "Doc" Harper.

Harper has stressed academics for Lone Star since the end of 2016. She did the same for two decades in Plant City, Florida, and Lubbock. Harper gives the coaches a daily grade report of every varsity player. She also sets tutorial schedules for the athletes and puts a proverbial foot up their butt to get there. 

Midway through his historic senior season, Mims started doubting his commitment to Stanford. He wanted to enroll in college for the Spring 2020 semester to get a jump on playing time as a freshman. Stanford, at the time, didn’t allow it. In fact, they required him to take two AP classes that ran through May. Mims notified Stanford he’d start looking elsewhere if early enrolling wasn’t an option. But since it was the middle of the semester, early enrolling anywhere didn’t seem like an option.

Then Doc Harper crafted a solution. She knew Lone Star’s then-principal Karen Kraft since she lived in Lubbock and frequently visited her best friend and Maid of Honor, then-Frisco Reedy principal Karen LeCocq. Kraft had originally brokered a sit-down with Lone Star head coach Jeff Rayburn to encourage Harper’s addition to the football program. So Harper told her the issue and got Mims a meeting to iron out a schedule where he’d double up with online classes to graduate early.

But when Harper texted Mims, he said he was getting treatment on his sore thumb in the training room. So she shot him an ultimatum.

“If you want to graduate early, you better get your ass here now and get into Mrs. Kraft’s office,” Harper said.

Mims got his ass there, then got to Oklahoma. 

The two still keep in touch nearly five years later. Harper attended Mims’s NFL Draft Day party with all the other Lone Star coaches. She’s flown to Denver to watch his games. 

“Me and Doc had such a close relationship,” Mims said. “She knows me better than a lot of people,” Mims said. 

Harper sends every kid’s transcript to colleges. She works with players and parents to ensure they receive testing accommodations in college. At spring football practice college recruiters beeline to her. She’ll point out each recruit and inform them of their character and home life. The coaches don’t even break from coaching.

Harper does all this for free. Her doctorate is in child and youth studies. Her actual job at Lone Star is teaching Employability and Independent Skills for students with disabilities. Harper takes kids off campus to work around Frisco at Market Street or Bricks and Figs. This is her 34th year teaching.

And yet, at 6 a.m. on Monday and Tuesday mornings during the football season, her classroom light is the only one on in the school building. The coaches need the grade report on which players are failing by 8 a.m. They pride themselves on maintaining 100 percent eligibility by being proactive and not reactive. Everyone in the program will get after an athlete for failing so he turns it around before six-week grades finalize, Doc Harper most of all.

“She’s holding the kids accountable, but she’s holding the coaches accountable too,” Rayburn said.

Harper’s reward lies in the names on that board in the Lone Star field house or attending Mims’s NFL Draft party, knowing she’s serving a role she wished she’d had when she was their age. She was an army brat with five brothers who played three sports in high school before competing in basketball and softball at William Penn University. With time, the athlete’s body withers, and the athlete’s mind grows hungrier for what it once had. Standing on Lone Star’s sideline on a Friday night feeds it.

“It’s that competitiveness that’s hard to turn off sometimes,” Harper said. “Although I can’t perform at any elite level at this point, I can see it. And I can be part of it.”

And though she’s an integral part of Lone Star’s success, investing so much time into these athletes, she doesn’t know how much the boys know about her life. Her purpose in volunteering. Her father served in the army for 23 years. She babysat all the special needs kids in her town growing up. Dad dressed up every year as Santa Claus and went out of his way to get that special toy for the kids. That included 1983 during the Cabbage Patch doll craze when he somehow conned his way into securing one. There were riots for those things. Harper still has that Santa suit.

“The one thing I learned from him was there’s always time in your life to give back,” Harper said.

At every year's spring game, Lone Star alumni return to the place and people that built them proudly wearing their college's colors. It's a family reunion where they speak with the new generation of high school athletes and reminisce with their favorite coaches. Harper gets a group photo with them every year. 

“She has our best interests in mind,” Mims said. “It didn’t have anything to do with her. She didn’t get recognition or anything for the years she’s been at Lone Star.”

That annual spring game picture is all the recognition Doc Harper needs.

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