John Harrar stays on top of his Philadelphia sports news thanks to a group chat with high school buddies. He grew up in a sports-crazed household in Delaware County, and he was partying in the streets of State College when the Eagles won the Super Bowl.
So imagine how it felt last week when Harrar strapped on an Eagles helmet and spent four days trying to prove to team officials that the die-hard fan belonged on the roster.
“That was a dream,” Harrar said.
That dream felt even more like a fantasy, since Harrar had not played football in six years. He was a basketball star at Penn State after playing both football and basketball at Strath Haven High School.
The Eagles, through a scout who graduated from Penn State and knew Harrar, paired his 6-foot-9, 240-pound frame with athleticism from the hardwood, invited him four weeks ago to try out as a tight end during their rookie minicamp.
“It was kind of crazy and it happened really quick, but I didn’t even have to think about it,” Harrar said. “If they asked me, I would go try out for the Phillies, and I don’t even know how to throw a baseball.”
Harrar first committed to play football at Army before deciding he wanted to play college basketball. But he didn’t have any scholarship offers. The brother of his high school coach played at Philadelphia University with Pat Chambers, who was then coaching Penn State. Maybe he could help.
Chambers invited Harrar to try out for the team. A month later, he was on the team.
“I always say, ‘I’m a tryout guy.’ I tried out for Penn State basketball,” Harrar said. “It’s not like they came running to my door shoving offers in my face out of high school. I had to try out against a 300-pound, 7-foot center. I’m definitely used to being a tryout guy and making it my identity.”
Harrar’s tryout with the Eagles has not yet resulted in a contract, but it could help him find his way onto some team’s roster before training camp. He’s fully committed to seeing if he can transition from basketball to football, a move other tight ends have been able to make.
Harrar is training with Greg Miskinis, a former Penn State tight end who is the strength and conditioning coach for the basketball team.
“Everyone is like, ‘Is it like riding a bike?’ It’s pretty much like riding a bike up a big, inclined hill that you can’t really see the top of,” Harrar said. “These dudes are freaks. It’s the NFL. These dudes have been doing it for a while and they work hard at their craft.”
Harrar inherited his size and his love of sports from his father, Jim, who was 6-9 and played basketball at Ridley High. Jim Harrar, who worked as a mailman in West Chester, would take John and his brother J.T. to the backyard of their Wallingford home every night to play football or shoot baskets.
He coached his boys in football for the Rose Tree Colts and in baseball with the Media Little League.
“If he could coach me at anything, he would coach me,” Harrar said. “If he couldn’t coach me, he would get the coach’s coffee so he could still have something to say.”
Jim Harrar died in September 2011 after a 16-month battle with cancer. Like his son, Jim Harrar rabidly followed Philadelphia sports. He died six years before John earned his way onto Penn State’s campus and it surely would have been a thrill to see his son last week with an Eagles helmet on.
“I think about that,” John Harrar said. “My brother and I joke about it. He would be all over the place. He would probably come to the tryout and pull the head coach aside and try to talk to him like a classic Delco dad. It would’ve been a sight.”
Harrar said he didn’t know some of the terminology the coaches used at the tryout and struggled a bit to understand an NFL playbook. But that’s to be expected as his last game was against Hatboro-Horsham in the 2016 District 1 playoffs.
“I just tried diving into it and getting the most out of it,” he said. “I think I got better. I don’t want to say I was the best out there, by any means. But I think I got better every day, which was my goal going in there. I would love to make it work. I’m training right now to make it work, so we’ll see where it goes. Hopefully, everything works out. Just controlling the controllables.”
Harrar left the final day of rookie minicamp on Sunday and drove straight to Penn State to take part that night in graduation. He left school with a bachelor’s degree in business management and a master’s degree in organizational leadership. He’s also the basketball program’s all-time leader in games played and second in career field-goal percentage as he parlayed his tryout into a standout college career.
“I try to work as hard as I can,” Harrar said. “I’m the first to admit that I got really lucky. If you look at all my seasons, there’s always something where the dice are rolling my way. I got extremely lucky.”
Harrar finished his tryout in South Philly with a pair of football gloves, a few pairs of Eagles shorts, and a new pair of cleats — “which I desperately needed because I only had basketball shoes,” he said.
Just like at Penn State, Harrar is hoping the dice roll his way again. If so, he’ll have some big news to break in his group chat with his Delco buddies.