By Amy Silverman
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"I was looking at my football team picture, and I realized that I was the only guy who was able to escape," he explains. "Most of those guys are dead or in jail. The rest are married with kids, working in dead-end jobs. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but thank God I made it out of there."
Going home is less painful than it used to be. Harman had a stormy relationship with his father growing up. He is reluctant to reveal details because "things are getting better between us. We're not the best of friends, but we're kind of reintroducing ourselves to each other."
Harman's parents had always seen art as a hobby, not something to print on a business card. The only adult in the family who encouraged his artistic bent was his American grandfather, a professional photographer who gladly shared his talents with his grandson. Young Jake was grateful to find a medium where he could creatively express himself, and developed a bond with his grandfather that filled a void in his life.
As a tribute to his greatest artistic influence and male role model, Harman shot black-and-white photos of his grandfather as his health steadily failed: Jake mopping the brow of his incapacitated hero with a washcloth. An old man with a plastic tube inserted in his nose, taking his final breaths. A recliner empty except for the crossword puzzle and reading glasses resting on the arm. A pair of slippers in eternal wait for the one pair of feet that match their indentations.
Not everyone was enamored of his camerawork.
"My uncles were pissed," he explains. "They thought I was being disrespectful, and they tried to get me to stop taking the pictures."
He says his grandmother told his uncles his grandfather would have wanted the photos made.
"Those pictures are going to be my next art show," Harman says.
Harman might have the soul of an artist, but it's hammerlocked inside the body of a wrestler. He has no tattoos or piercings. Aside from his warrior physique, his only distinguishing features are his "trophy ears," as thick and tough as cafeteria steaks.
"We're supposed to wear headgear during practice," Harman says. "But coach has a lot more to worry about than a bunch of pretty ears."
One of the concerns ASU wrestling coach Lee Roy Smith had was whether he should let Harman join his program as a walk-on. Harman transferred to ASU after graduating from Cerritos Junior College in Long Beach, California, where he excelled as a wrestler.
But ASU is a wrestling powerhouse. Big fish in juco ponds can easily find themselves organizing the equipment room instead of on the mat, representing a school vying for national titles.
"I told him that he would have an uphill battle, that it would be a real challenge," Smith says. "If he wanted to accept that challenge, then I'd give him a shot."
Harman fought to prove to his coach and teammates that he was worthy of the Sun Devil uniform. At first he was penciled in to add depth to an already crowded weight class, but his passion for the sport gave coach Smith other ideas.
"We had some injuries and problems in the weight class above him, so we built him up to 190," says Smith.
The only advantage this gave Harman was a psychological one. He would chow down on hoagies in front of drooling opponents who had to starve themselves to make weight requirements. Despite being undersize, Harman managed to compile a respectable .500 record against some truly intimidating specimens.
"He was always at a height and leverage disadvantage, but he compensated with a fierce desire to compete," Smith says. "His desire to be a part of our team means a lot when you're trying to develop a top-rated program."
The skills and intangibles Harman brought to the squad were rewarded with a partial scholarship. Former walk-on Aaron Simpson became one of ASU's best wrestlers before graduating in the spring of '98. He is now an assistant coach and still winces at memories of competing against Harman.
"I hated going up against him," Simpson says. "His intensity was unparalleled. I didn't want him to get the best of me, so we never half-assed it. Because of him, I was able to raise my own level of intensity."
Wrestling, school and his job as a bouncer at a nightclub monopolized most of Harman's time.
But the artist inside proved irrepressible. Harman would sing the national anthem before matches, then wrestle. For a photography class, he did a story-board presentation of the lifestyle of a wrestler--studying on the road, trying to make weight requirements, getting stitched up on the sidelines.
"Jake always had a fire in his belly that made him work harder than anybody in the class," says photography teacher Eric Kronengold. "I was able to show him more techniques than usual because he could take on a lot at once. He's really quite talented. I'd put money on him making a successful career in photography."
Another art teacher encouraged Harman's musical interest. 3D instructor Brad Nelson let Harman bring tapes he'd made on the computer to play in class. When Nelson saw students bobbing heads to the beats, he asked Harman to perform at Nelson's master's thesis show. The show was an exhibit of the functional furniture Nelson had created around the rave culture. Nelson believes that Harman's music helped make the presentation a success.