Going out with a bang: Harper named NFHS State Coach of the Year

Published 11:19 am Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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Just under a month ago, one of the most legendary careers came to an end as Valley’s Marshon Harper announced his retirement. However, the state was not ready to be finished recognizing Harper as he was awarded the NFHS State Coach of the Year. 

Harper has received a bundle of awards since winning the 5A state championship with the Valley Rams in 2023. Harper was awarded 5A state coach of the year by the Alabama Sports Writers Association and was also named coach of the year by several publications. 

The accolades have continually racked up for Harper over the past year, but the latest award means something different for Harper. The NFHS State Coach of the Year award means that Harper gets to go out with a bang in the state of Alabama. 

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“I’m very happy about it,” Harper said. “It shows the hard work that I’ve been putting in. Hard work is paying off, and I’m just happy about it.” 

The NFHS State Coach of the Year award was voted on by coaches across the state. Harper has become a household name in Alabama even before winning a state title in 2023. 

The award shows the level of respect that Harper has received from coaching circles throughout Alabama. As a coach who grew up and overcame every obstacle along the way, being recognized by his peers means the world to Harper. 

“It means a lot to me,” Harper said. “A lot of people have a lot of respect for me, and I have a lot of respect for other people. Putting Valley High on the map, and the end of my career has been a great journey.” 

Harper announced his retirement on April 24, but he has not been fully away from Valley High School or the athletic program over the past few weeks. 

Harper coached at Valley’s spring football game against Eufaula and was still a heavy presence during the Rams’ spring practice schedule. 

Valley High School held its graduation ceremony on Tuesday, and Harper will have his last day as a teacher at Valley later this week. As of now, the realization of his retirement has not fully set in. 

“It hasn’t really set in,” Harper said. “My son gets to graduate tonight, and I have two more days to go to work. I think our last day is on Thursday. I think it’ll start setting in once I can’t come back.” 

Harper has served as a teacher and coach at Valley for 25 years. Leaving behind that chapter of his life is far from easy, but Harper believes this recognition helps him close that chapter and go out on a high note. 

Harper brought stability to Valley’s athletic program as a coach and as an athlete. Winning is an important part of any coach’s career, but winning and leaving a legacy in Valley was that much more special for Harper. 

“It’s a great feeling,” Harper said. “I played ball at Valley High School and have been competing in the state of Alabama and have seen a lot of coaches come and go. It’s just a great accomplishment for me.” 

The accolades and accomplishments have been a major part of Harper’s journey at Valley High School, but the 2023 5A state championship was Harper’s proudest moment as a Ram. 

Harper had success in the past as Valley’s head coach, but the program had never made a deep playoff run during his tenure as head coach. In 2023, Harper got over that hump and finished as the first undefeated state champion in 5A history. 

“Winning that state title, being undefeated state champions was a dream come true,” Harper said. “I always wanted to win a state title and never got a chance to win one when I played ball in high school or college. It was good to win a state title.” 

Harper’s run as Valley’s basketball coach met its bitter end in the state semifinals as Valley lost to Fairfield to end the season. At the time, the win was tough to swallow for Harper. In the months prior, Harper has gotten the chance to look back and appreciate the 2024 season despite the final result. 

“I just think we were the most feared team in the state of Alabama,” Harper said. “We should’ve won a state title, had the talent to win one. We almost made it to back-to-back final fours, and we were the only team to make it back from the previous year. I was proud of the guys.” 

Harper’s future is still undecided at this point. Harper will no doubt have other opportunities to coach in the future if he decides to, but he is living in the present and focusing on his family for the time being. 

“I’m going to start off being a father and a parent, but I think I will eventually coach again,” Harper said. “I’m just going to enjoy this moment with my family, a little time off, and make a decision after that.” 

Harper’s legacy goes far beyond any basketball or football field he has coached on. Harper has led Valley’s recruiting and given several athletes the opportunity to play in college.
Harper’s son, Jay Harper, is the continuation of that legacy. Jay is set to leave to play for Wisconsin in the coming weeks.