Shawn Harper plans to put his self-described 6-foot-4, 300 lbs. frame to work during his upcoming visit to Juneau.
The former NFL offensive lineman will be offering up some feats of strength, such as rolling up frying pans and tearing through phone books as part of his Pillars of America presentation at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at Centennial Hall.
“I’m going to take it to a whole new level,” he said. “I don’t like comfort, because if you’re not careful, your comfort zone can become your casket. I really like to push it.”
And, in between displays of physical power, Harper will be discussing how he discovered and harnessed emotional might to transform himself from a student struggling to complete high school to a college graduate with a seven-year professional football career and then to a successful businessman, life coach and motivational speaker.
His message, in a nutshell is about how to “win from within,” he said.
“Everything that [is] in the butterfly is also in the caterpillar. The beginning of the butterfly is in the caterpillar. And through adversity, through perspective, through transformation, you can not only create, but you can manifest your destiny.”
Harper finished last in his class at Independence High School in Columbus, Ohio. Simply graduating might have been accomplishment enough for a man with four documented learning disabilities and a speech impediment, but there was more on Harper’s horizon.
Without the grades to attend a four-year university, he instead went to North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City, Iowa. Harper told the NIACC alumni newsletter in 2008 that the 12-hour distance from Mason City to Columbus turned out to be a blessing. Too far from home to leave on a regular basis, Harper used his spare time to receive extra tutoring. While there, he also discovered how good of a football player he could be, going from a self-described average prepster to a first-team all-Region 11 lineman, and eventually becoming a member of the NJCAA College Football Hall of Fame.
Those accolades — and his academic improvement — earned Harper some looks from NCAA Division 1 programs, albeit not the one he wanted in his hometown.
“I honestly wanted to go to Ohio State University,” he said. “That was my dream, initially, and I got turned down. And, I made a vow, and I said the next Big 10 school that calls, I’m signing. Two days later, Bill Mallory, the legendary coach at Indiana University, gave me a call, and that’s where I wound up. And, you know what? I have no regrets.”
While at Indiana, Harper earned an honorable mention to the all-Big 10 team and, more importantly, stood out enough to hear his named called by the Los Angeles (now St. Louis) Rams in the fourth round of the 1992 NFL Draft.
Harper said injuries hampered his pro career. In three years in the NFL, he played in only eight games before spending some time in the now-defunct NFL Europe. However, what might appear to be a disappointing run in the pros “set the foundation for a paradigm shift in my life,” Harper said.
“I realized that I was part of a team,” he said. “I was part of a system. I was basically a part of a world, and I have responsibility being part of that. And I kind of went into actually speaking and giving back, because it was in those moments when I saw guys being released and I saw the other people who weren’t as fortunate as myself. So I said, ‘you know what Shawn, you made it to this level, you have a responsibility. And, after and modeling and watching (teammates) like (former all-pro) Tom Newberry and (NFL Hall of Famer) Jackie Slater … how they immersed themselves in the community, I realized, ‘you know what, it’s not all about you. And, this is a great opportunity, and you have a platform to give back.’”
Using his platform as an NFL speaker to transition into becoming a motivational speaker was “the easy part” of life after football, Harper said. Becoming a businessman proved to be the greater challenge, he said.
“Being able to engage corporate clients can be challenging at times,” Harper said, “because there’s a whole new different set of rules. But, where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
In addition to his work as a motivational speaker, Harper owns a security firm in Columbus and serves as a life coach. It was the last occupation that earned him a spot on MTV’s “Made,” as he helped a boy achieve his dream of becoming his prom’s prince.
“That was an amazing experience,” Harper said of “Made.” “I had my reservations, because I’m very particular about my image and my brand, particularly in the public spotlight. But, after talking with my wife and spending some time in prayer, I took a chance, and it was an absolute blast.”
Such an undertaking is part of Harper’s investments in people. Those investments will be a major theme of Harper’s presentation in Juneau.
“I love investing,” he said. “I love investing in stocks, mutual funds … but I have found out that the greatest investment is people, because when you invest in people, it has the potential of reaping generations of benefits. That’s what I’m all about is to be able to plant seeds, knowing that you may never eat of its fruit. It’s really cool. I like it.”
So, there will be some investment advice at Centennial Hall on Wednesday, but it won’t be from a staid stockbroker droning on about P/E ratios and mutual funds. Instead, it will be about putting capital into people over the long haul.
With perhaps some bent steel bars as well.
“There’s never a dull moment,” he said. “I love to rip things and break things. I’m ripping phone books. I might explode some soda cans. It’s going to be very … not your typical speech. I don’t like to be normal. I don’t like normal.”