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IRVINE — Adam Harper raced toward the pooch kick bouncing precariously near his 10-yard line but instead of picking up the ball for a return, he used a strategy that might puzzle even the most experienced observers of high school football.

The Northwood senior said he voluntarily ran out of bounds and touched the ball dead in the field of play, resulting in another kickoff that turned out to be more advantageous for the Timberwolves.

“I saw it on YouTube — ‘highest IQ plays in the NFL’ or something like that,” Harper said of his play against Laguna Hills last month. “One of the (NFL) players was out of bounds and he went and touched (the ball). When (the kickoff) happened (to me), I was like, ‘I’m going to try that’ and I did and it worked.”

And the collection of astounding feats by Adam Harper added yet another chapter.

Last season, he led Northwood to its first CIF-SS title and became the program’s first section player of year.

Harper hasn’t slowed this fall. The running back/safety leads Northwood (11-1) against familiar playoff foe Vista del Lago of Moreno Valley (9-3) in the CIF-SS Division 8 semifinals Friday at Irvine High.

“Harper has as good of instincts of anybody I’ve seen,” veteran Northwood coach J.C. Clarke said before practice this week. “And on game night, he’s the best on game night I think I’ve seen.”

Harper displayed his football intelligence early on with Northwood. As an under-sized freshman, he would play defensive tackle and safety in the same series.

“He’s incredibly smart,” Clarke said of Harper, who carries a 3.7 grade-point average. “How did he know (that out-of-bounds rule) it the moment? … We didn’t know what the heck he was doing.”

Harper’s versatility also makes him special.

Now 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, he leads Orange County in rushing with 2,048 yards while operating behind an under-sized offensive line. He also is a standout linebacker/safety.

In a 17-14 victory against Grand Terrace last week, he recorded 14 solo tackles and eight assists.

Northwood, seeded 11th, faces the same Vista del Lago team it edged 16-12 in the semifinals last season in Moreno Valley en route to the Division 11 title.

The No. 2 seeded Ravens, who beat Crean Lutheran last week, will again have the size advantage.

But Harper has benefited the last few weeks with the healthy return of two of his top offensive linemen in Jan Abuelsad and Tao Sun.

He also teams with his brother, Joe, a sophomore tight end/defensive end who is playing through a wrist injury.

Harper has tossed four TDs on trick plays, including a few to Joe.

Another brother, eighth-grader Jacob, is on the way next year. He serves as the team’s ball boy and will add to a family legacy at Northwood that includes Harper’s three older sisters: Abby, Julie and Emilie.

Harper dreams to play football or baseball at Brigham Young University after serving his two-year Mormon mission. Emilie is now serving her mission in England.

Harper will play catcher in the spring but his primary focus is on Friday night.

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“We know they’re probably going to come with extra fire given that we beat them last year,” he said of Vista del Lago. “We know we can beat them again but we’re still not going to take them lightly because they’re a good team and they’re here for a reason.”

Adam Harper is here for a few reasons.