Notes: Notre Dame defensive back Thomas Harper hopes shoulder issues are behind him

Mike Berardino
ND Insider
Oklahoma State defenders Thomas Harper (13) and Jabbar Muhammad (7) celebrate an interception during the second half of a 36-25 win at Baylor on Saturday.

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame defensive back Thomas Harper has learned how to grit his teeth and play through pain.

After what the Oklahoma State graduate transfer went through last season, including November surgery to repair a labrum tear in his right shoulder, Harper hopes the worst is behind him.

“I realized there was an issue in the Baylor game,” Harper said Friday in a media session for midyear enrollees on the defensive side. “I played two or three more games. I felt like it was in my best interest to get surgery and get it done for my health and safety.”

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Harper, whose versatility allows him to bounce between free safety and slot cornerback, played 57 total snaps (including special teams) on Oct. 1 in a road upset of No. 16 Baylor. Despite the shoulder flareup, Harper made four tackles that day.

The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder came back the next week against Texas Tech and made seven tackles while playing 107 total snaps in a 41-31 win. Then came 57 more snaps and five more tackles in a 43-40 loss to TCU, the eventual national runner-up.

Harper sat out the Texas game on Oct. 22, but he was right back out there for 55 more total snaps the following week in a 48-0 loss to Kansas State. He made four tackles against offensive coordinator Collin Klein’s group before finally making the decision to have surgery.

The Cowboys, 6-2 when Harper was shut down, lost four of their last five games without the senior stalwart out there on defense. According to Pro Football Focus, Harper missed just five tackles over his final four games at OSU as he effectively worked through the pain in his right shoulder.

“One of my goals this spring is I’m trying to gain 10 pounds or so,” he said, “put on a little bit more muscle mass because that is how I like to play. I like to hit and I like to be physical.”

Adon Shuler undergoes surgery

Early enrolled freshman safety Adon Shuler, a four-star recruit from Irvington, N.J., is expected to miss spring practice after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder.

Fellow four-star freshman safety Ben Minich said Shuler is handling the setback as well as could be expected.

“I know it was definitely tough for him when they told him he had to get surgery, but he didn’t get too down on himself,” Minich said. “He knows it’s just a minor setback for something bigger to come. He’s doing good, really good.”

Minich, a West Chester, Ohio product who verbally committed to Notre Dame last August, has become fast friends with Shuler.

“We’re definitely bonding a lot,” Minich said. “He’s my guy. It’s been cool to actually meet each other in person, get to know more and then (pick) each other’s brain about football.”  

Perspective on James Laurinaitis

Former NFL linebacker James Laurinaitis’ recent decision to leave his Notre Dame graduate assistant role after one season was disappointing for the position group he left behind.

However, Preston Zinter, an early-enrolled freshman from Lawrence, Mass., understood the reasoning that took Laurinaitis back to Ohio State, where he was a three-time All-American a decade and a half ago.

Feb 1, 2023;  James Laurinaitis talks with the media during an off-season news conference. Laurinaitis will join Ohio State's staff as a defensive graduate assistant for the 2023 college football season. Laurinaitis previously spent the 2022 season as a graduate assistant at Notre Dame, working under former Ohio State teammate Marcus Freeman. He and other Ohio State football coaches addressed the media in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: Doral Chenoweth/The Columbus Dispatch

“I got to know him really well,” Zinter said. “It’s definitely a shock. But I’m super happy for him and his family. Everybody has a fit for them. This is where his path is leading him, so nothing but happy for him.”

Zinter, a three-star recruit who made his nonbinding commitment to Notre Dame a year ago Saturday (Feb. 11), stuck with the Irish despite picking up April offers from Duke, Maryland, Central Florida and West Virginia.

Tom Schoen dies at 77

Tom Schoen, a consensus All-American for Notre Dame at defensive back in 1967, died recently, the school announced. He was 77.

Recruited as a quarterback from Cleveland’s St. Joseph High School, Schoen converted to defensive back for his final two college seasons. He led the 1966 Irish to the national championship with seven interceptions, including two that he returned for touchdowns.

Nov 19, 1966; Columbus, OH, USA; FILE PHOTO; Michigan State receiver Eugene Washington (84) makes a catch from Jimmy Raye (not pictured) against Norte Dame Fighting Irish safety Tom Schoen (7) at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans tied the Irish 10-10. Mandatory Credit: Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Schoen’s three career pick-six returns are tied for the program lead with four other players.

A skilled punt returner as well, the 5-11, 185-pounder was an eighth-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns and played in four games in 1970. Drafted into the Army, he served at Fort Campbell, Ky., and in South Korea.

He returned to the Cleveland area and later owned a sporting goods store and Schoen’s Bar & Grill. Starting in 1988, he also served as an assistant football coach and later head coach and athletic director at his old high school.

In 2000 he was inducted into the  Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame.

Schoen is survived by his wife Mary and their five children, Kirstin, Thomas, Kathleen, Timothy and Michael.

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.