What does Mike Hart mean to the University of Michigan football team?
To the casual fan, he looks like just another decent college tailback. But those who follow Michigan closely know that Hart is much more than that.
One need only watch Hart's interview after the Oregon game to understand this. In it, he guaranteed that Michigan would beat Notre Dame on Sept. 15th—even without their starting quarterback, and even with one of the worst defenses in recent Michigan history.
“I have no doubt in my mind,” Hart said.
No, he's not having an emotional breakdown, and no, he’s not making a flippant prediction out of frustration—he's taking ownership of the team and resolving to turn a nightmare season around.
Hart is doing what captains do: being a true leader, and taking this team on his shoulders.
More importantly, he's backing it up with his play.
Whether or not Michigan puts a strong season together, Hart has immortalized himself as one of the truly great players in the history of Wolverine football. He'll be remembered as a true “Michigan Man” who left a positive mark on this program—regardless of the number in the loss column at end of the season.
As a player and an athlete, Hart has shown flashes of greatness since his freshman season.
In our first look at him, there was that unforgettable run on 3rd-and-10 to ice the game against San Diego State. He ran for over 200 yards in three straight games during the October stretch run. He impressed us all with a three-TD performance against Northwestern.
Hart posted a dominating performance against Michigan State as a sophomore, and showed his consistency during his junior year by bringing his best effort week after week.
Hart thrived on the biggest stage in the "Game of the Century" against Ohio State, scoring three touchdowns and keeping his team in alive. This year, he's rushed for over 300 yards and three touchdowns in the first two games.
But Hart's ability isn't what impresses most. After all, he’s not very big, and he's not all that fast. Instead, it's his determination, tenaciousness, and will to win that have marked him as one of the greatest players to ever don the winged helmet.
Hart has never quit—not once in his entire career at Michigan. He has never loafed, never taken a play off, never left anything in the tank unless he was held out of the game by anxious coaches.
He plugged away in 2005, even though he was injured for most of the year. As a team captain this year, he has managed to create memorable moments in unbearable losses.
Against Appalachian State, he fought through a deep thigh bruise to produce an inspiring second-half comeback. Against Oregon, Hart again performed at a high level—but we all realized how little it matters when his teammates don't respond to his leadership.
In what may be described as the signature moment of his Michigan career, a limping Hart pushed a replacement tailback off the field, shouted at his linemen to perform better, threw a devastating block on a blitzing defender...then limped to the sidelines following an incomplete third down pass after his teammates again failed to match his intensity.
Now we look to the future, and the glaring guarantee he made for next weekend’s rivalry game against Notre Dame. Hart stood at the podium on Saturday and vowed that the team—his team—would be ready.
As far as leadership points go, he didn’t disappoint. Then again, he rarely does.
Many have read the heartwarming article by John Heuser from the Ann Arbor News about Mike Hart the son, brother, and friend. He has overcome difficult situations in his life time and again. He has been there for his family, his friends, and, yes, his teammates too.
Hart has always been fun to watch, but his leadership over the last two weeks has earned him my true respect, and the respect of Michigan fans all across the country.
Not just as a football player—but as a competitor, a leader, and a person.
Lloyd Carr is right about one thing: A person’s character and leadership ability is worth more than his talent as a football player.
Fortunately for Michigan, Mike Hart has all three.