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Sam Hartman’s path to Wake Forest’s starting QB has been anything but normal

Sam Hartman’s path to Wake Forest’s starting QB has been anything but normal

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When you think about it, Sam Hartman being Wake Forest’s starting quarterback for Thursday night’s season opener at Tulane makes perfect sense.

Reaching this point took a couple of twists and turns in the eight months he’s been at Wake Forest. What would have been a fall-camp battle with Jamie Newman for the primary backup spot behind Kendall Hinton became the battle to start when Hinton was suspended for the first three games of the season. Hartman and Newman waged a battle where neither player seemed to gain an advantage on a day-to-day basis. It was throw-by-throw, play-by-play. Separation, and the choice of Hartman, came only after Newman’s quad injury.

But twists and turns are Hartman’s normal. And when the past is boiled down, Hartman has been groomed to reach this point. His mental toughness — sharpened through hardships most teenagers never come close to experiencing — means he’s a 19-year-old quarterback primed to be in this position.

“He’s been very blessed to be in the right place at the right time with really good people,” said his dad, Mark Hartman. “I will say that every time he’s been in that position, he’s fought hard and set himself up for success.

“That’s the proudest thing (about him) I’ve been. I know it’s funny when you think of how the things have rolled to allow him to do this, but also proud of him that he’s kind of stepped through the door.”

Sam Hartman will hold the reins to Wake Forest’s well-equipped offense Thursday night. He’ll have playmakers all over the field and the entire offensive line that was the engine for last season’s record-shattering performance on offense.

Where John Wolford took over a relatively hopeless situation four years ago, Hartman is at the helm of a team that expects a bowl berth and talks of competing for an ACC championship.

The molding of Wake Forest’s quarterback took time, but more importantly, it took a toll.

The stories told of Hartman’s path that brought him to Wake Forest sound like tall tales — the only time “tall” will be used in reference to the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder.

— There was the freshman season at SouthLake Christian with a coach trying to run him off the team, right up until Hartman was part of a two-touchdown second-half comeback in the state championship game.

— Then the transfer to Davidson Day and enduring the death of his adopted brother, Demitri Allison, two days before winning another state championship. It was, according to Hartman’s dad and Coach Chad Grier, the best game he played that season, making all of the throws and connecting for two touchdowns. The night of Allison’s death, when Grier told Hartman “nobody expects you to play … whatever you need to do,” he was cut off by a steely-eyed Hartman telling him, “I’m playing.”

— Turmoil came before his junior season started, when a birth defect in his thyroid gland allowed bacteria to swell into his left shoulder and his health sharply declined. Three weeks before that season, while Hartman was in the hospital after having a baseball-sized lump removed from his shoulder, Grier again told Hartman what was — or wasn’t — expected of him, that the team would “love to have him back for Week 8,” and Hartman’s only response was that he was playing in the opener. On the first play of that opener, Hartman threw an 80-yard touchdown to Nolan Groulx. The next week, he threw for the third-most yards (568) in Mecklenburg County history, behind Grier’s son, Will Grier, a contender for the Heisman Trophy this season at West Virginia, and Chris Leak, the legendary quarterback during the run of NCHSAA championships by Charlotte Independence.

— And then last season, his senior year, when the well-oiled machine at Davidson Day folded because there weren’t going to be enough players to field a competitive team. Instead of playing for Cornelius Hough, Hartman followed Chad Grier to Oceanside Collegiate Academy in Mount Pleasant, S.C. — a move Grier said, “There was nothing about it football-wise that said, ‘Hey, this is a great next step in your career, much less for somebody like Sam.’” That was OK, though. Oceanside, in its second year with a football team, went 7-3 with Hartman throwing for more than 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns.

Mark Hartman says that between himself, his wife, Lisa, and Grier, that “it would take a tank running over (Sam) full speed to get him to turn around and even get flustered.”

Going back further than Sam Hartman’s time at SouthLake Christian, Davidson Day and Oceanside Collegiate Academy means studying his time with a former University of North Carolina quarterback.

Mark Maye and Mark Hartman coached together in Pop Warner football, where they had Sam playing with kids two years older than him. He was, naturally, the quarterback, and Maye’s offense through the years always featured a bit more passing than the norm.

“He always had a knack for throwing the football. I bet when he was 9 or 10 years old … he’d be 15 for 20 with two drops,” Maye said. “He’s always been real accurate and, shoot, he was a good inside linebacker growing up. He’s a tough kid and really just has all the traits you want in a quarterback. He’s a leader.”

Since Sam Hartman has been at Wake Forest, he’s impressed teammates with poise and composure beyond his years. Even Cade Carney, Wake Forest’s junior running back and a teammate of Hartman’s for one year at Davidson Day, was impressed in fall camp that Hartman avoided a pitfall that seems to snare every other freshman.

“Most of these freshmen out here have a little bit of a wall that they hit as camp gets hard,” Carney said. “But I feel like he’s pushed through, and he’s done a very good job of staying focused.”

Over the course of spring practices, summer workouts and fall camp at Wake, he’s shown that his demeanor on the field mirrors who he is off of it.

“He’s just very courageous, he plays very courageous, very confident,” said Warren Ruggiero, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Deacons. “When he’s out there, he’s throwing balls that not a lot of other people would try and throw.”

That’s nothing new for Hartman. If, as a teenager, he handled the death of his brother and an infection that threatened his livelihood, he’s probably not going to be affected by defenders trying to tackle him.

The final play of Hartman’s high school career was a rushing touchdown. Grier asked him when he came to the sideline if he wanted to play one more series.

“He just looked at me, ‘No. You know what, I’m good. That’s a good way to end it, I’m done,’” Grier said. “I don’t know what went through his mind for those few seconds, he just kinda looked up when I asked him that question. But I’ve wondered a few times, how much, with all that he had to go through, that journey he went on was so unusual and had so much adversity compared to a normal high school experience, but he just managed it beautifully.

“I think he’s as mentally tough and prepared to play the position as anybody I’ve ever been around.”


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