Say the name Grant Harman pretty much anywhere in the Panhandle, and those who follow sports, and many others, will not only know the name, but will likely have more than a few adulatory things to say about the Martinsburg High School senior. A tenacious, determined, highly focused three-sport athlete who’s never lost a high school football game, Harman also serves as the Bulldog basketball team’s emotional, and often physical, leader—where he plays guard on a squad that, as of press time is a school-record 22-0, and about to begin a run at a state title.
Athletic accolades acknowledged, Harman admirers might also enjoy knowing that he’s a model student, with a 4.5 GPA, fully intent on becoming a dentist. In fact, something those same folks might find surprising: there’s a good chance he’s not pursuing sports at all in college. And he’s fine with that.
“I haven’t decided yet; I aspire to be a dentist,” he explained. “My dad’s grandfather was a dentist, and I job-shadowed a dentist in October, and really liked it. If I don’t play sports in college, I think I’d be okay with it. I feel like I have nothing left to prove to myself—I’ve given this school and these teams everything that I could give. I’ve been non-stop for four years.”
Harman said he’ll officially determine whether sports will be a target at the next level in a conversation with his parents coming soon—which will double as a thorough examination of where he wants to attend, as well. “I just don’t know yet. I’m going to sit down with my parents and discuss it. I have options, but it’s actually been hard to visit schools with my schedule. As far as sports on the next level is concerned, however, I want to be in the best position for my future—which is dentistry—and then grad school, which is WVU at this point. It’s just a matter of where I’m going to go for the next four years. Sports will be an influence, but definitely not the influence.”
Again, that statement may come as a surprise to many area fans—especially those who’ve watched him excel on the gridiron for years. “My dad put a ball in my hands when I was little—I started playing football around seven, and was in love with it immediately, especially running and scoring,” said Harman, who switched between quarterback and running back all through his youth—which prepared him for what would become a stellar career at Martinsburg doing both.
“I played some receiver in eighth grade as well, for the ninth-grade team—with Tyson [Bagent] as quarterback—then went back to quarterback my freshman year, and then back to receiver and backup quarterback my sophomore and junior years. And obviously quarterback my senior year.”
Setting the Tone
With former Martinsburg High School, and current Shepherd University, star quarterback Tyson Bagent at the helm of the Bulldog offense for Harman’s sophomore and junior seasons, one can appreciate the fact that the quarterback position was, needless to say, occupied. But for a player, and a person, like Harman, that just meant finding other ways to contribute.
“When I arrived, the team had recently won four state titles in a row, and then my freshman year, we lost to Capital in the playoffs,” he recalled. “I remember getting off the bus after that game and telling my friend, Michael, we can’t let this happen again. It was a moment where we stood on the sidelines and watched Martinsburg lose a game they could’ve won. They brought me up to watch. We decided right then and there, it was our responsibility to never let this happen again.”
The Martinsburg football “dynasty” has been a steady topic of conversation on both the local and state levels for the better part of ten years. Theories abound, but the legacy is forged in culture, and Harman is the proof—to the extent that, each year, a Grant Harman arrives (likely with some buddies), and decides as a 15-year-old, that anything less than a state title on their watch will be an underachievement. In Harman’s case, that meant doing whatever the coaches needed him to do.
“Coach Walker and Coach Hesen had talked to me about playing free safety because their starter had graduated when I was a freshman,” he indicated. “Coach Walker wanted to get me on the field. I’d never played the position—was an outside linebacker all through my youth. It was a transition—going up two levels from freshman ball to varsity—and a new position. It took me a couple games to get sorted out, but once I got my first start, I really took to it, and got all-state that year. We won a state title, I led the team in tackles, and got an interception in the championship game. It set the tone for the rest of my career. I can’t thank them enough for having the confidence in me as a sophomore.”
As a junior, Harman came into the season hoping to get more reps at quarterback, in preparation for his senior year, but it wasn’t necessarily meant to be. So he played some receiver and picked up another all-state defensive back honor to go with a second state title. He does point out, however, that the preparation for quarterback was still happening, just on the other side of the ball.
“Safety is the quarterback of the defense; it transitions to offense in my eyes—and helps me recognize defenses, blitzes, other details. And on defense, I can read the offense that much better—call different coverages based on what their offense is doing.”
Moving into his senior year, Harman was as well prepared mentally, physically, and strategically as anyone could be for the QB position. But Martinsburg being Martinsburg, the quarterback spot wasn’t a lock.
“Coach Walker talked to me going into the season and stressed that I needed to be able to throw accurate and make good decisions,” he pointed out. “He told Elijah that too, but I hadn’t had any true in-game reps since my freshman year. [Elijah Banks split time at quarterback with Harman, and is expected to be the 2019/20 Bulldog starter]. So, me and some of the guys worked extremely hard in the off-season. We put it all on the line. We weren’t going to be denied. I had the perspective that I didn’t want to be the one to not make history and not win a title.” [They did both: winning the 2018/19 WV state title, the school’s third in a row and seventh in nine years, while also setting a state record with their 42nd win in a row].
Putting in the Work
“I saw him play as a ninth grader; you could tell then that he was such a competitor,” said Dave Walker, Martinsburg’s head football coach. “Whether he was winning by fifty or losing by fifty, he was going to give you everything he had.”
Walker knew he had a special kid on his hands, which is why he wanted to get Harman on the field early and often. “We had a need at free safety his sophomore year; I discussed it with the staff,” he explained. “I knew how smart he was, how well he saw the field—I knew he’d study film and be very coachable. It ended up being the right move. And offensively, we had Tyson—so we had the luxury of trickling Grant in at quarterback to get him some experience. He was more of a runner than Tyson—and very athletic—so we got him reps at receiver, which combined with the defensive piece, really set him up for his senior year at quarterback. But I’m sure if I’d have asked him to play lineman, he would’ve done it, enthusiastically.”
Aside from being an enormous part of Martinsburg’s football success during his tenure, Walker said Harman was simply a joy to coach. “He’s a breath of fresh air, a throwback, and a credit to his parents,” he emphasized. “Grant is very unselfish, a serious student of the game, and ultimately did whatever was needed for the team, without questioning. He’s the type of kid you want to coach—willing to do extra to be successful, and he put in so much extra time to become as much.”
Walker added that the results speak for themselves. “I mean, he won forty-two games on the varsity level (at least 50 overall in high school), three state titles, three all-state honors, multiple all-conference honors, MVP of the state title game this year, the Carl Lee Trophy (top defensive back in the state) this year, as well as second place for the MetroNews player of the year. And people have to remember, this kid is a three-sport athlete—a very good basketball and baseball player.
“You want a kid like that in your locker room, in your program. He leads by example and makes everyone better. There are a lot of expectations to be met with Martinsburg High School football, and a string of exceptional guys who came before you. It takes a special person to live up to those expectations and carry that torch. He put in the work, and you see the results. In fact, he reminds me a lot of Nate Sowers—the work ethic, the academics, the personality. You don’t get much better than Nate, and Grant reminds me a lot of Nate.”
Whatever direction Harman chooses after high school, Walker isn’t worried. “He’s got a bright future. Everything he does, he’ll be good at. He’s just one of those people who, when he sets his mind to do something, he’s going to do it.”
There was never a doubt in Harman’s mind that Walker and his fellow coaches would put the Martinsburg team in a position to win every season. “One way for me to look at it is: it’s everybody versus Martinsburg,” he noted. “You get on social media or look at a lot of the press coming into this season, and even near the end—people doubted us heavily this year. No one thought we were going to win the title, except us. I believe that the winning culture established here by the coaches and the former players resonates with the people coming up. Like me, those kids don’t want to be the ones known for tarnishing the legacy—for not doing their best to keep it going.”
Harman also hinted at an answer often asked within the region: how is Martinsburg so good every year? “Practices here are insane. We compete on another level. The coaches preach that the scout team should be the best team we play all week. And they do a great job making sure the scout team is top quality. We all get better as a result … so that when it’s their time to step into the starting role, they’ve done their time, contributed to the success of the program, and now they have their own opportunity to carry the torch. With the talent pool so deep at Martinsburg, you’re really just one play away from getting in and contributing to the success, the legacy. And you have to think like that—and bring that level of commitment.”
Talent being what it is, it still takes an extra ingredient for a great athlete to rise above his peers. Harman calls it his “killer mentality.”
“Yeah, people don’t really expect it when they first see me; Coach Walker always jokes that I don’t pass the ‘eye test,’” he mused. “But I guess I’ve just always had it; I don’t think it’s taught. I’ve always been scrappy. Always wanted to win no matter what. Fortunately, being at Martinsburg has allowed me to be a part of sports programs that are either at or near the top—which feeds the competitive instinct—the killer mentality.”
While it might be more subtle on the baseball field (his favorite of the three sports, surprisingly), it only takes about a minute of watching Harman play football or basketball to see the inner animal. “I suppose the mentality just bleeds from one sport into the next,” he added. “It’ll be interesting to see how it affects me in college if I don’t play sports.”
A worthy consideration—and a keen bit of introspection from a young man who many would expect to continue his athletic ways at some lucky school immediately after graduating from Martinsburg. Time will tell, said Harman.
“My parents have done a great job keeping me on task over the years. They always stressed the importance of good grades and time management. If I go to college and blow out a knee or something, I’ll have those good grades to fall back on. If I don’t have the academics, then what do I fall back on?”
Currently, Harman juggles his extremely busy schedule very carefully—mixing sports that overlap from season to season with upper-level and AP classes, as well as three college classes this year. “I think that taking those harder classes can prepare me for college if I also decide to play sports while I’m there. I’ll have to take those types of classes while managing sports too, and it’s all about time management—one of the life skills I’ve learned in high school.”
Now finding himself in the inevitable position of reflecting on his time at MHS, when it “seemed like yesterday” that he was pledging to carry the football torch, Harman appreciates that Martinsburg High School has done just as much for him as he has done for it.
“I’ve grown and matured so much—sports had a lot to do with that, but so did the experience here overall,” he said. “I don’t go out and party or anything, and I hang out with good people. I’d like to think I’ve become a good example to younger people. I don’t want to confuse them—or compromise their idea of what it means to be successful.
“Martinsburg High School allowed me to develop as a person. Coach Walker and Coach Sherman give me tons of advice and words of wisdom—I listen to every bit of it because of the type of people they are. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.”
Legacies being what they are, Harman hopes the legacy he leaves behind impacts those behind him as much as his experience at Martinsburg High impacted him. “I guess the one thing I’d really want to represent is work ethic,” he affirmed. “I wasn’t necessarily blessed with height or speed or even size. It’s really just about hard work for me. People see that. I hope the younger guys behind me can look at me and see how much hard work has allowed me to achieve. Hopefully they’re inspired by that, and find similar success.”By Mike Chalmers