College Sports

How ex-Davidson Day star Sam Hartman was groomed to become Wake Forest’s starting QB

Wake Forest freshman Sam Hartman (left) will be the starting quarterback Thursday night when the Deacons visit Tulane in the teams’ season opener.
Wake Forest freshman Sam Hartman (left) will be the starting quarterback Thursday night when the Deacons visit Tulane in the teams’ season opener. Andrew Dye / Winston-Salem Journal

When you think about it, freshman 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 the former Davidson Day standout has 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.

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Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman. Wake Forest Athletics

“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.”

Sam Hartman will hold the reins to Wake Forest’s 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 in Huntersville 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.

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Former Davidson Day quarterback Sam Hartman once passed for 568 yards in a high school game while playing for the Patriots. Thursday night, he’ll make his college debut as freshman for Wake Forest, which opens its season at Tulane. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

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 Independence High.

▪ 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 Hough High in Cornelius, 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, who played for the Tar Heels in the mid-80s after playing at Independence High, 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,” said Maye, father of UNC All-America basketball player Luke Maye. “He’s always been real accurate. ...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.”

The Winston-Salem Journal is a news partner of the Observer. For more Wake Forest coverage go to http://www.journalnow.com/sports/wfu/

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