Friday, February 17, 2017

Hart inducted into athletics hall of fame

Brad Hart
Brad Hart has barely enough fingers to support his athletics hardware.

The 30-year-old former Rocket football and basketball player was enshrined Feb. 10, 2017 in the Farmers Bank Marion-Crittenden County Athletics Hall of Fame Friday, in just his second year of eligibility. That alone speaks volumes to his competitive achievements in athletics and his personal integrity off the field.

Hart’s high school career was noteworthy indeed, but his name surfaces most often in conversations about his three college football bowl rings. He played in the Music City Bowl and Liberty Bowl and was on the roster for another Music City Bowl while playing at the University of Kentucky.

Hart carved out a niche on the Wildcat football team as a walk-on who earned the starting job as the team’s long snapper. After his senior season, Hart was elected the University of Kentucky Male Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Longtime Rocket football coach Al Starnes said Hart’s a great example of someone who recognizes the opportunities athletics can offer and seizes them by specializing in a particular area.

“Brad was a very good high school football player. He played tight end and linebacker on some very good teams and was a large part of those teams’ successes, but so were many other athletes,” Starnes said. “Brad realized he had a special talent and used that to his benefit in big time college football.”

Starnes said Hart is the only player he has coached in 26 years at Crittenden County who started and finished a career in Division 1 college football.

“That says a lot about his character,” Starnes said.

“Long snapping is just something I could always do,” explained Hart, now an attorney at a prestigious law firm in Nashville, Tenn. “I have dads call me sometimes wanting advice on things to teach their boys about long snapping. Honestly, I don’t have much advice for them because it just came natural.”

Many things come natural to Hart, whose academic and professional successes probably outmeasure anything he accomplished on a football field or basketball court. In high school, he was valedictorian of his class in 2005 and was a two-sport athlete. Hart lettered four years in football and the teams on which he played rank No. 4 on the all-time list of cumulative wins by a class with 33.

Hart recalls his sophomore season as one of the best in school history. The Rockets finished 10-3 and he was a lineman. Crittenden beat Fulton and Murray in the playoffs that season before losing to eventual state champion Mayfield in the First Region title game.

Hart recalls a game his junior season at Hancock County when both teams were hoping for a district championship. The Hornets routed CCHS and injured six players. Four went to the hospital. Hart took a big hit in that game as well.

“I got crushed,” he said. “Somehow I managed to stay in the game.”

Crittenden went to the spread offense his junior season and Hart was a tight end and enjoyed getting in on the action. He had 258 yards receiving and 69 tackles that season. As a senior, Hart was a second-year starter at linebacker and recorded 115 tackles. On offense, he had 233 yards receiving on a team that featured an up-and-coming young quarterback, Austin Berry.

“We were really good offensively that year,” said Hart who was third on the team in receiving as the Rockets won nine games.

As a basketball player, Hart was a tenacious 6-foot-1 center known for his blue-collar approach around the basket. He lettered four years on the court and his teams never had a losing record although their post-season accomplishments were quite unremarkable. Hart played with all-time leading scorer Tim Hill, but never as an upperclassman did one of his teams win a game in the district tournament. The Rockets were 17-10 his sophomore season and lost to Henderson in the regional tournament. Hart averaged nine points and five rebounds as a senior and eight points and four rebounds as a junior.

In retrospect, Hart believes he could have pushed a little harder, worked a little more in the offseaons and made himself into a better player, and perhaps a more versatile collegiate athlete.

“If I could have gotten a little faster, a little stronger I might have been able to play linebacker at some small college,” Hart said. “But back then I was preoccupied with normal high school stuff. I guess it worked out pretty well, though, because the memories I made at UK were really special.”

After biding his time as what Hart calls “just a walk-on practice player” his sophomore season at UK, Hart earned a spot as the full-time long snapper as a junior in 2007. He lettered two seasons and played in some of the greatest venues and against some of the best players in the country. Hart played with a number of Wildcats who played or are still playing in the NFL, including Jacob Tamme, Randall Cobb and Tim Masthay.

“We played at Alabama and in The Swamp,” Hart said. “All the travel experiences I had with the team, flying to games and playing in those stadiums, I am not sure I understood at the time how special that was.”

Now that he’s on the other side of schoolboy sports and college degrees, Hart says it’s fun to look back and size up all those memories. Being elected to the Hall of Fame is something he will always cherish just like his induction into the Frank G. Ham Society of Character at UK.

“It is a huge deal. I am proud of Marion and proud of where I come from,” he said. “And, I am very proud to say I will be going into the Hall of Fame. Obviously, Crittenden County is a small school, but we have had some great athletes come through there.”