Wesley Harshbarger made one big choice, and soon he’ll have to make another.
The standout athlete from Twin Bridges has committed to play football for the Saints. Once he steps on campus, he’ll make another choice: What position he’ll play.
The Saints recruited the 6-foot-2 Harshbarger as an athlete, coming from an 8-Man football team. Harshbarger said the staff will let him chose his primary position and then adjust during his time at Carroll. The 8-Man game allowed Harshbarger to play nine different positions throughout his prep career, giving him remarkable versatility when he steps on the field. Certainly running a 4.5 second 40-yard dash helps, too.
“Wherever I’m told to play, that’s where I’m going to play and I’m going to play as hard as I can to make my team successful,” Harshbarger said.
It will come down to a choice between running back, linebacker and safety, Harshbarger said the Saints told him. He hasn’t figured which position he’ll play yet, but no matter what, Harshbarger said his passion for the game will be what defines him.
“I'm not the biggest, I'm not the fastest, but I try to play hard every snap and I leave it out there when I play,” he said. “I've faced injuries through my career so far, so I take every opportunity I get and make the most of it. I love to compete. I love the grind and winning. I know I can't win them all, but at the end of the day, it's how you take the opportunity in front of you is what matters.”
Part of that mentality comes from a piece of advice Montana State linebacker Mac Bignell shared with him some time ago. Bignell, who also played 8-Man football, thought those who play 8-Man have a built-in toughness.
“He told me, 'Kids that come from that environment are tough. We play both sides of the ball, and the whole game. There’s no one that plays harder than us.’ I keep that in the back of my head a lot, as I look up to him and stay in contact with him a lot.”
Bignell may be right -- at least when it comes to Harshbarger.
Harshbarger has dealt with a litany of injuries during his career at Twin Bridges. His freshman year he broke his thumb and played in a cast. Later, he tore his labrum and missed his sophomore season of football. His junior year was another bumpy ride. Harshbarger had a “freak accident” during track and field while running the 1,600-meter relay -- a stress fracture in his right foot. The injury bled into this season, keeping Harshbarger off the field until the fifth game, where he came back and rushed for five touchdowns and caught another two.
“I was unfortunate with injuries, but I feel good and ready for the next level now,” he said.
His junior year he racked up 101 tackles, 989 rushing yards, 240 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. He became an All-State linebacker and second team all-conference running back. His team selected him as a team captain this past season and, after returning from injury, he scored 19 touchdowns and recorded 61 tackles in six games.
Harshbarger is also accomplished on the hardwood. He started as a freshman and has grown each season he’s played. He was selected first team all-conference as a two-guard as a junior and is off to another strong start this season.
Harshbarger had interest from Montana State, which considered him for a walk-on spot. Harshbarger also generated interest from Montana Western, Oberlin, Jamestown and Minot State. Harshbarger said the other schools intended to offer him if he didn’t commit to Carroll.
His decision to attend Carroll came down to the small class sizes and the success of the football team over the span of Mike Van Diest’s tenure. Harshbarger solicited advice from friends and family when he made his decision, but ultimately he knew the Saints were right for him.
“It was extremely stressful at times,” Harshbarger said. “I thought about it all the time and it never left my mind. I kept it to myself a lot and just thought and prayed. I didn't have offers yet, but I was getting them and I didn't know where the best fit was for me. It was a dream to play for Montana State or somewhere big time, but at the end of every day, Carroll was where my mind was.”
Harshbarger sees changes on the horizon for the Saints after a pair of down years.
“We have great young talent, and if we get a good set of players in this year’s recruiting class, be ready for some noise and winning seasons to come back to Helena," he said. "I'm excited and I think the coaches will get us where we need to be. Like every team, they have their ups and downs, and we sometimes fall in slumps. But they get worked out and the path becomes successful again. “
As for what else Saints fans should know about the prep standout: “I'm a man of faith and my family is strong in religion,” Harshbarger said.”I look to Him for everything and all credit goes to Him. I look forward to playing for the fans in Helena and giving back to the community. I'm excited to come up and see if I can bring what I know about being successful into Carroll and be a big part of big things there. I want to make an impact, and it's going to be a fun next four, five years. I can't wait to get to work and be a Fighting Saint for the rest of my life.”