Reggie Harper, who played tight end for Vols, dies at 53

Holds two school record for tight ends

News Sentinel
Former Tennessee tight end Reggie Harper died on Sunday. Harper played at UT from 1977-80.

News Sentinel Former Tennessee tight end Reggie Harper died on Sunday. Harper played at UT from 1977-80.

Reggie Harper, who was one of the crown jewels of the University of Tennessee football recruiting class of 1977 and still holds two career records for tight ends, died Sunday at the University Medical Center in Lebanon, Tenn. He was 53.

Mr. Harper and Trousdale County High School teammate Donnie Oldham were both highly regarded prospects in 1976. Not far removed from the excitement of the 1976 national championship season and Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett, new Tennessee coach Johnny Majors found himself in Hartsville in January of 1977 as the featured speaker at Trousdale County's football banquet in Hartsville.

Mr. Harper and Oldham were in attendance, and both of them eventually became Vols. There sat Majors, a national championship coach, eating off a plastic school lunch plate with plastic knives and forks and sitting on one of those circular metal seats attached to the table.

"Reggie was a great football player," said teammate and fellow recruit Clark Duncan, now assistant principal, coach, and athletic director at South-Doyle. "I first met him at the Tennessee East-West All-Star Game. He was a phenomenal athlete who was fun to be around. Everybody gravitated toward him."

Mr. Harper, who played for UT from 1977-80, and wore No 85, was a freshman All-America selection in 1977 by The Sporting News and an All-SEC selection in 1979 by The Associated Press.

"We were buddies," said teammate Alan Duncan. "He always called me 'Duncan.' I had the greatest respect for his abilities. I was a walk-on kicker from Kenya, but I knew a great athlete when I saw one."

Mr. Harper holds the Tennessee career record for catches and yardage by a tight end, with 98 catches for 1,141 yards. The 6-foot-3, 227-pound tight end led the team in receiving in 1977 (30 catches for 331 yards) and 1978 (31 catches for 356 yards).

He won the Mickey O'Brien Award in 1980 for the player who overcame "physical obstacles" during his career to make a valuable contribution to the team.

"We looked up to him," said teammate Danny Spradlin. "He had a big heart. He had a bad knee, but played through adversity. He loved the game and wanted to play."

Services are set for 2 p.m. Central on Saturday at Jim B. Satterfield Trousdale County Middle School, 210 Damascus Street, in Hartsville. The family will receive friends from noon-2 p.m.

Tom Mattingly is a freelance contributor.

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Comments » 30

dlobh writes:

Sad news indeed. RIP Reggie Harper.

voloffaith writes:

We've had a few players named Reggie that were stellar and he was one.....

richvol writes:

I knew Reggie when he was playing. He was a good friend to Jimmy Streater and Hubert Simpson. Rest in peace Reggie.

orangecountyvols writes:


Very sad news. Sympathy to Reggie's family.
Many of us saw him play a lot of games and he gave his all for Tennessee.

Certainly will be missed by the Vol nation.

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

Sad to hear of ones to leave us at such a young age


Only 53 years old, very sad news..RIP, and prayers to the family.

Bark_at_the_Moon writes:

Sad news. Reggie was a heck of a ball player back in the day.

jobrando#216494 writes:

Well remembered

bigdisbig writes:

He was truly a great player. I wonder what caused his death?

pingkr62 writes:

It's always sad to see any former Vol pass away, But to have left us at such a young age is especially sad. I remember hearing John Ward call his name when I was a young man and I remember him well. I think it would be a fitting tribute to Mr Harper to have Mychal Rivera wear the number 85 this year. Just a thought. G.B.O.!!!

lemich writes:

I had classes with Reggie at UT. He was a quality guy, so sorry for his family's loss. RIP Reggie

JimmyJoe writes:

Hey as a kid from the upper Cumberland myself... I idolized Reggie... I picked number 85 as my number in high school because of him. I sure wish I had had some of his talent to go along with the number. Rest in Peace Big will be missed.

ktemaque1 writes:

Very sad news. R.I.P. Reggie Harper. May God be with his family and friends.

doctorvol#211700 writes:

He played against us in h. s., then we were at UT together. Makes me feel old. What a great player, and hard hitter (in hs).

Millisa writes:

His family has my prayers

Bigger_Al writes:

Alan Duncan was from Kenya?

77VolFS writes:

in response to Bigger_Al:

Alan Duncan was from Kenya?

Alan was a Missionary Kid in Kenya and has spent a great deal of his adult life as Missionary in South Africa. Teammate of Reggie on the Hill - he was a quality guy and well respected to go along with all that talent. RIP Reggie.

traderjoe writes:

Such a short time here. Sad. Anyone know the cause of death?

PHAT_VOL writes:

A great player and just a nice guy. He will be missed.

eduardo writes:

I can still hear John Ward say Touchdown REGGIE HAAAAARRRPPER!!!!

Clarkrm0706 writes:


sideout1 writes:

Played Intramural basketball against Reggie. On a fastbreak he jumped clean over me to lay the ball in the basket! An amazing athlete.

VolGrad writes:

From all across BOC...

RIP Reggie.

brokendownoldvol writes:

I was in school then and at every game. I remember him well. Sad news.

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

Very sad indeed. I saw him play many games during my High School days. Wish his family well..

OwensboroVol writes:

Far too young. He was a great Vol who gave it everything he had. RIP

oldvoltimer62 writes:

I will miss Reggie I attended Trousdale Co.High with him he was a couple of classes ahead of me,but coming from a small school everyone was almost as family.He always had a great personality and was always smiling.I am proud to say he was my friend.He loved Yellow Jacket,and Big Orange football and shared his stories with all who would listen about games past.A gifted athelte and a good person all around.Trousdale Co. and the Big Orange Nation has lost a great one.RIP Reggie.

lstbodeanvol writes:

I really enjoyed watching him and Jimmy Streeter play always gave it all even back in his Trousdale county days.....he loved the game and played through pain.....this Vol will be missed by the Vol Nation...God Bless him and his family

orangegirl4ever writes:

I am from Trousdale Co and went to school with Reggie. He was an outstanding football & basketball player. I was so happy for Reggie & Donnie who were both in my graduating class when they went to UT to play for the Vols. Many trips were made up to Knoxville to watch Reggie set all kinds of records! On a personal note Reggie was always a kind and gentle soul. I can never remember anyone being mad at him or he being mad at anyone. He never got in fights and was a friend to all. He always had that big smile to give everyone. He was proud of and loved his high school team and his UT Vols. His son will need a lot of prayers to help him through this. Goodbye old friend, our loss is heavens gain!

SouthALVol writes:

Remembering UT-Auburn 1980, a 42-0 win for the Vols at Auburn when they were honoring their team of the decade for the 70s. I was there and saw #85 catch a pass with one hand while flat on his back. That is a special memory of a special player. I had an orange #85 jersey I wore out as a kid.

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