COLUMBIA — When asked to describe teammate Dupree Hart several weeks ago, Northwestern senior defensive back Corey Seargent declared without hesitation “He’s a create-a-player.”
In male teenage parlance, that’s as high a compliment as can be offered. Seargent meant that Hart is like a player that someone would create on the Madden football video game, with 99 out of 100 in every category. High praise indeed.
Hart went some way to justifying that level of respect Saturday during Northwestern’s 62-35 romp in the Class AAAA Division II state championship. The junior caught 21 passes for 255 yards and four touchdowns, including three scores in the first 24 minutes. Hart’s 21 passes fell just short of the single-game reception record of 22, held by former Trojan great Robert Joseph.
“I just tried to come out here and play football and not get too hyped over playing in the South Carolina state championship,” said Hart, a 5-foot-6 slot receiving extraordinaire. “I played the game I always play.”
Whether in the men’s room, the press box or the parking lot next to the stadium, Hart’s name was on everyone’s lips after the game. The Stratford Knights will have sleepless, toss-and-turn nights thinking about Hart’s stop-and-go shiftiness and his ability to reel in catches that should be way over his head.
But Stratford had a hand in Hart and Quadarius Fair’s success Saturday. Trojan players and coaches were a bit miffed that the Knights tried to cover Northwestern receivers one-on-one with single or no safety help over the top. The ploy didn’t work.
“We kind of felt disrespected that they were gonna zero cover us with no safety,” Hart said. “So, coach Richardson told us to be better than our man, and we did that.”
“It benefited us greatly,” Northwestern senior quarterback Mason Rudolph said of the Knights’ defensive scheme. “If you’re trying to put one person on Dupree, well, good luck. But he made plays, all of our kids made plays all night. He looked good.”
Trojan eyes widened when Stratford stayed in the same defensive look, with six players in the box committed to stopping the run, for most of the game. Northwestern ended up with only 41 yards rushing, but that mattered little in the grand scheme.
“We thought they were gonna make an adjustment in the second half, but they kind of stayed the same way,” said Rudolph. “I just get the ball in their hands and let them make plays.”
Richardson and his staff thought the Knights would confront Northwestern defensively the same way they did when the two teams met in the 2007 playoffs. That year, Stackley’s defense covered Cordarrelle Patterson, a future NFL player, with just one man. That suggested this year’s scheme would be no different and they were right.
“We just tried to take advantage of some of those matchups,” said Richardson.
Hart and Fair’s individual brilliance made that possible. Hart, who finished the season with 115 catches, hauled in a one-handed touchdown grab on Northwestern’s first drive, setting the tone for a record-setting day. It was just one of the many catches that Hart has made this year that sent writers scrambling for superlative analogies and fans scraping their memories for a better play.
“If it touches your hand, you should catch it,” said Hart. “At least that’s the way I feel.”
Hart’s only college offers so far come from Appalachian State and a dual baseball/football offer from Coastal Carolina. Statewide members of the media, many seeing Hart play for the first time, were puzzled at the lack of offers, but that may be changing soon. Hart said after Saturday’s game that Virginia Tech and East Carolina had been in touch. It’d be fair to guess that there will be a few more schools in contact this week.