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Published: Sunday, 3/23/2008

Hartline happy to be back on track


COLUMBUS - It's more than five months until the start of football season, but Brian Hart-

line is spending his time trying to run away from people. The Ohio State wide receiver is putting his speed to work back on the track this spring.

Hartline, who will be a red-shirt junior for the football team in the fall, had not participated in track since the spring of 2005, when he won state championships in both hurdle events as a senior at Canton GlenOak. It's been all football since then for the

6-foot-2, 180-pound Hartline.

"I'm competitive, and when I walked away from track, I did miss it," said Hartline, who competed in a couple of indoor meets for Ohio State this past month, and plans to run more in the outdoor season later this spring, once his football commitments are fulfilled.

"There is just something different about competing in track. You are out there alone, no team around you, no helmet to make everyone kind of look the same. It's nerve-wracking, but it really gets the competitive fire going."

When he came to Ohio State three years ago, Hartline was a coveted, versatile athlete who had played five positions on the football field, but his resume was more heavily credentialed in track than it was in football.

As a high school senior,

y in the first game, and his football season was done. He needed surgery, and a metal rod was placed in his leg to aid the repair.

That metal rod did not come out until January of 2005, and five months later in May, Hart-

line was a state champion in two events - 110-meter and the 300-meter hurdles.

"The reason he got the offers in football was because of what he did in track," said Scott Ferrell, Hartline's track coach at

GlenOak. "Brian was a great football player when he was healthy, but his speed in track is what excited all the football coaches."

Hartline had been second in the state in the 300 hurdles as a junior, and fourth in the 110 hurdles that year. He also placed 10th in the high jump. He was a four-time All-Ohioan in track.

"That is extremely rare," Ferrell said. "Ted Ginn Jr. [former Ohio State receiver] did it, but that's a very small group of people who make All-Ohio for four years."

Hartline had focused exclusively on football at Ohio State, red-shirting his first year, then playing in all 13 games in 2006 as a backup to current NFL players Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez. As a starter last season, Hartline was second on the Buckeyes in

receptions with 52, averaging 13.3 yards per catch.

His 20 punt returns for 229 yards was the best on the team, and Hartline scored seven touchdowns, including one on a 90-yard punt return, an Ohio State record.

"He came around the corner and he was gone," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said about Hartline's long touchdown return that came against Kent State. "The kid can run."

Although it had been about three years since he had competed in track, and that he was working with taller hurdles at the college level, Hartline took second in his first indoor meet at Akron, running the 60-meter high hurdles in 8.19 seconds.

"That was my first meet in three years, and I've never been so nervous," Hartline said. "I was more nervous for that little meet than I was for the national championship game."

At the Big Ten Indoor Championships in Wisconsin earlier this month, Hartline ran a 8.04 in the 60-meter hurdles in the semifinals, the third-best time in OSU history. He placed seventh in the final.

"Working out for track got my legs back into shape, but I can't say I'm too comfortable with my hurdle technique yet," Hartline said. "It's kind of like riding a bicycle - once you learn how, you can always get back on and ride, but you just can't do all of the old tricks right away."

Running track for the Buckeyes allows Hartline to carry on a long tradition of Ohio State football players who have doubled in the sports. Current Buckeyes Malcolm Jenkins, Dan Potokar and Chimde Chekwa ran in the 4x100 relay last spring, and Donald Washington took part in the long jump.

Former Buckeye Mike D'Andrea threw the shot in his freshman season, and Michael Jenkins ran the 200 and 4x100 relay. Drew Carter earned All-American status in the long jump in 2003.

Hartline's high school coach said the pairing of football and track makes a lot of sense.

"The training and the preparation you do for track, it is not at all contradictory with your football work," Ferrell said. "There are a lot of guys in the NFL who were also great track athletes."

Ferrell said he thinks that

Hartline's double-duty this spring should enhance his chances of ending up in professional football.

"He knows his speed is critical, if he hopes to get any looks from NFL teams this season," Ferrell said. "He said he never felt faster than when he was running track, and by getting back out on the track this spring, he should be a better, faster football player in the fall."

Hartline and the Buckeyes start spring football practice on Thursday, and complete it with their annual spring game on April 19. He'll spend the next month working on both sports, and maintaining his academics.

"It will be pretty demanding trying to balance the track workouts with football and school," Hartline said. "But I think both sports benefit each other, and I get another chance to represent Ohio State. I didn't want to miss out on that opportunity."

Contact Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6510.

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