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August 13, 2013Some recruits win over a fan base by spurning a rival. Others do it with affection. Some by immediately recruiting for their new school. Mike Hart did it with a video. And not just any video - the sickest Barry Sanders' impersonation you'll ever see.
No. 7 - Mike Hart - 2004
On YouTube, it's titled 'The Run' and there may be no other name more appropriate. In a state championship game his junior year, Hart begins with a stiff-arm to escape a tackle, then makes a guy miss, and another, and another, and then two more, and now another, and then another stiff-arm. By the end of the 65-yard TD run, he's dodged every defender on the field.
Though there were some concerns about the level of competition Hart faced in New York (considered one of the weakest states for football recruiting), most fans fell head-over-heels in love with the diminutive back, especially as he made it known loud and clear that his greatest desire was to wear the winged helmet.
"They've always been my team. I grew up with Michigan football and liked Charles Woodson, Anthony Thomas and [Tshimanga] Biakabutuka," Hart said in early June 2003.
At the time of his graduation from Onondaga Central in Syracuse, Hart held the national high-school records for touchdowns (204), consecutive 100-yard games (47) and career points (1,246). He rushed for 11,045 yards on 935 carries (11.8-yard average), going for 3,489 yards and 58 scores as a senior.
Hart had casually visited Ann Arbor during spring break of his junior year, meeting head coach Lloyd Carr, running backs coach Fred Jackson and others. He held offers from Miami, Michigan State, Syracuse, Virginia and West Virginia, but there was only one program he truly wanted to play for.
After visiting unofficially a second time in June, coincidentally the same weekend five-star QB Chad Henne was in town, Hart announced for the Maize and Blue July 7, 2003.
"Michigan was always my favorite school growing up," he told TheWolverine.com for a feature in our magazine in 2004. "I just always watched the games with my dad - he was a Wolverine fan.
"When I was a junior, I sent them a bunch of film and they liked it. I went up there for an unofficial visit and everything happened from there."
Hart continued to endear himself to Michigan fans, on The Fort responding to a Your Questions Answered feature while actively recruiting for the Wolverines. Perhaps Hart drew his largest contingent of followers, though, because he continually spoke his mind, preaching he would not be deterred even though U-M had landed a four-star tailback in Max Martin or because, at 5-8, 188, with 4.5 speed, he wasn't the biggest or fastest ball carrier out there.
Some recruiting experts, in fact, were convinced Hart had no future offensively at all.
"I think he can contribute somewhere because he's one of the better athletes in the class, but it may not be at tailback," said Prep Football Report publisher Tom Lemming, who ranked him the No. 6 cornerback nationally but would not rank him as a tailback.
Jackson was in Hart's corner, though, and that's all that would matter.
In 1990, Ricky Powers set the Michigan freshman rushing record with 748 yards, obliterating Jamie Morris' 1984 mark of 573 yards. By the time Hart showed up on campus in the fall of 2004, 16 other tailbacks had taken a shot at Powers' record. None had come close.
Hart would almost double it.
With the departure of Chris Perry following a Doak Walker award-winning season in 2003, U-M had to fill a sizeable hole at tailback. Senior David Underwood was the first man up with junior Pierre Rembert, sophomore Jerome Jackson and fifth-year senior Tim Bracken also in the mix. Reporters asked about a freshman contributor, but queried about Martin, not Hart.
It was Hart, though, that made his career debut in the season opener against Miami (Ohio), gaining four, three and 13 yards on three carries while Underwood, in his first career start, disappointed, finishing with only 61 yards on 22 carries (2.8-yard average).
Underwood suffered a concussion in that game and would not be available a week later against Notre Dame. Jackson started, and had only 32 yards on 15 carries. Hart had 17 yards on five rushes and Rembert averaged 5.8 yards on four carries.
A week later, in a win over San Diego State, Jackson again started, but after two carries, the coaches put Hart in. His first rush went for 13 yards. Then six. Then seven. By the end of the first half, the 5-9, 175-pounder (official roster measurements from his freshman year) had 51 yards on eight carries (6.4 yards per rush). He would add 70 yards on 17 second-half totes, and the Wolverines had found their back.
Over the next eight regular-season games, Hart would rush for 1,214 (151.8 per contest), becoming the first Wolverine in school history to rush for 200 yards in three consecutive contests when he went for 234 vs. Illinois, 206 at Purdue and 224 in a triple-overtime victory over Michigan State.
Hart would finish his first year with a Michigan rookie-record 1,455 yards and nine touchdowns.
Injuries dogged Hart in 2005, though he would still finish the team's leading rusher with 662 yards in eight games while his 1,562-yard campaign in 2006 ranks as the sixth-best all time at U-M.
In 2007, Hart was on pace for the first 2,000-yard season in school history - his 154.0-yard pace after seven games would have equaled 2,002 yards for 13 contests, including a bowl game - but he suffered an injury in week seven against Purdue and would miss the next two contests.
He returned and played on a gimpy ankle in a 28-24 comeback win at Michigan State in a game that became legendary after Hart referred to the Spartans as 'Little Brother' in the aftermath. The comment made Spartan fans crazy (and even drew MSU's Mark Dantonio into one of the more ridiculous rebuttals a coach has ever uttered, insulting Hart and mocking his size).
Hart loved to torment the Green and White, rushing for 100 yards or more in four straight wins over State, accumulating 674 yards (168.5 per game) - the most ever achieved against a single opponent in U-M history - including a pair of 200-yard affairs.
Hart never beat Ohio State, a lacking accomplishment he eventually had to make peace with (he did his part in 2006, rushing for 142 yards and three scores in a 42-39 loss), but the final memory he left Michigan fans is one that will not be forgotten - Hart going for 129 yards and two TDs in a 41-35 Capital One Bowl win over Florida.
By the time his career was officially over, Hart had rushed for 5,040 yards and 41 touchdowns, the only back to ever achieve the 5,000-yard mark.
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