Injuries slowed Mike Hart in 2005, when he started just eight games and saw his production cut by more than half - 150 carries for 662 yards. A determined Hart rebounded last season, carrying the ball 318 times for 1,562 yards, with a career-high 14 rushing touchdowns.
MICHAEL CONROY / AP Enlarge
ANN ARBOR - Mike Hart could run for political office and win in a landslide. He could work in sales and be in the million-dollar club. He could run the United Nations and negotiate settlements between bitter international adversaries.
Hart has the charm, the smarts, and the charisma to do all of that.
Hart would be equally adept at gracing the cover of GQ magazine, or leading a church service. He could do Pepsodent commercials with that brilliant smile, or command a squad of Marines with that iron will.
"Mike Hart is a special guy - special to be around, and special in the way he approaches life, and the game of football," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said about his senior running back, who is also a leading candidate for this year's Heisman Trophy.
"There aren't many like him."
Hart made that clear soon after he arrived at Michigan from Onondaga High School near Syracuse. Michigan has a plethora of prep stars with glitzy resumes, but Hart's was especially arresting. He set the national high school record for career touchdowns with 204, and had 47 straight games with 100 or more yards rushing.
In his senior season, Hart rushed for an astonishing 3,489 yards and 58 touchdowns. Over his high school career the numbers totaled 11,232 yards on 935 carries.
But even with that stunning list of stats, no one could have expected Hart to step into the backfield in his first season at Michigan and lead the Big Ten in rushing with 1,455 yards - the second highest total in conference history for a freshman. He was an easy choice as the Big Ten freshman of the year.
Injuries slowed Hart in 2005, when he started just eight games and saw his production cut by more than half - 150 carries for 662 yards. A determined Hart rebounded last season, carrying the ball 318 times for 1,562 yards, with a career-high 14 rushing touchdowns.
Hart, who averaged about five yards per carry, finished just seven yards behind Wisconsin's P.J. Hill for the Big Ten rushing title.
"He doesn't care about all that individual stuff," Michigan offensive lineman Jake Long said. "I think he's just a great competitor who wants to win, and if the best way for Michigan to be successful is to give Mike Hart the football, then he's going to end up with a lot of records and awards, because he can do some amazing things."
Hart, whose first name is Leon, does the job in a fairly compact package, at 5-foot-9 and 196 pounds. With another 794 rushing yards this fall, Hart will become the Wolverines' all-time leading rusher.
"Not bad for a little dude," the 6-7, 315-pound Long said with an ornery smile. "No but really, Mike's size is obviously a non-issue. He plays at such a high tempo and with so much energy. There's nothing the offensive linemen like more than watching him take out somebody that's 75 or 100 pounds bigger. He's fearless out there."
Carr likely finds Hart's fastidiousness as his most endearing football quality. Hart has lost one fumble in his career over 750 carries - and that came almost three years ago when he was a freshman.
"That is an amazing statistic, but Mike Hart does some amazing things," Carr said. "He is one of those truly unique individuals who has demonstrated over and over that he is able to handle anything that comes his way. He has great ability and great confidence, and I think he's going to get better and better."
If that is the case, the future does not look promising for those who need to stop Hart in order to have any chance at slowing the highly regarded Michigan offense.
"Mike's just an amazing football player, and a guy you are so glad is on your team," Michigan offensive lineman Adam Kraus said about Hart, the Big Ten's preseason offensive player of the year.
"You love to block for a guy like that. He will make the most out of every opportunity you give him. He's got all the tools a great running back needs - vision, balance, power - but he's got great instincts, too. He always seems to cut the right way."
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.
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