ROCK HILL — At 6-foot-4, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green might have close to a foot on 5-foot-6 Northwestern junior Dupree Hart.
Hart, however, broke Green’s state record for career receptions – and in the case of the Northwestern junior, has a year on Green.
“A.J. Green set that record over a four-year span,” Northwestern coach Kyle Richardson said. “Dupree broke that in three years. Breaking the record is impressive in itself, but for Dupree to do that in three years just shows what kind of player he is.”
The Trojans’ 49-21 victory against North Augusta in the Upper State championship game came with Hart’s record-setting performance Friday, one that put the Trojans back in the Class AAAA, Division II state championship game. Northwestern faces Stratford next Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Hart finished with nine catches for 124 yards, three carries for 18 yards and four total TDs.
“I know A.J. Green was a top-10 draft pick and played at Georgia,” Hart said. “I was watching his highlights the other week, and he made some fantastic catches when he was in high school. For me to break that record is an honor.”
Hart can make the fantastic catch too. Green, who finished with 279 receptions at Summerville from 2005-08, and Hart certainly have that in common despite their very-different sizes. In Green’s case, it might be catching a pass at its high point over defenders, a trademark he’s taken to the NFL. In Hart’s case, it’s pin-balling through defenders, juking for more yards or spinning into the open field. That style bred the weekly fill of game-changing, jaw-dropping plays against the Yellow Jackets.
Yet for a person of Hart’s size, it’s still somewhat hard to believe he’s seemingly always open.
“I have to use my speed and my quickness,” Hart said. “When you are small like me you have to find ways to get around guys who are 6-foot-2, 200 pounds running around the middle. If you’re big or slow, it’s going to help me out.”
In fairness, Hart needed a while to warm up Friday. He dropped two screens and couldn’t make a one-handed catch on Northwestern’s second drive. That didn’t stop quarterback Mason Rudolph from targeting his favorite receiver.
Hart broke Robert Joseph’s school record with a 25-yard TD on a hitch-and-go with 3:14 left in the first quarter to give the Trojans a 6-0 lead.
“It was something we saw and did a smart check,” Rudolph said. “We had great protection the whole game, and it was nice to be able to put the ball in his hands in that situation.”
Hart tied Green with a 5-yard out in the second quarter. Hart then set the record with a 3-yard TD that gave the Trojans a 21-0 lead.
Hart started the second half with a thrilling 87-yard kickoff return TD on the first play of the second half. Hart cut through defenders on the right before swerving to the left sideline and breaking free for the score, which put Northwestern in command at 28-7. He added a 21-yard TD on a leaping catch with 9:55 remaining.
While the record is in the books, Hart remains focused on making plays in next week’s state championship game, one the Trojans lost to Greenwood in overtime in 2012.
“We came up short last year and I don’t want to have that feeling again,” Hart said.
In a fitting touch, the press box recognized Hart with 8:53 remaining. Richardson gave him a football, which Hart held to the sky.
While on that topic, Hart still has a chance to set the national record for career receptions. Justin Sawmiller of Kenton, Ohio, entered the weekend with a national record 434 receptions. Hart, who sits at 285 now, would be hard pressed to reach that.
But after watching his latest performance Friday, would you doubt him?
“He’s had 100-plus (catches) for three years now,” Richardson said. “He’ll be on pace to break it if he continues to play this way.”