The hoots and hollers in the press box at Williams Brice Stadium last Dec. 7 weren’t coming from anybody out of the Rock Hill area.
As Northwestern’s Dupree Hart put on a spectacle in the 4A-Division II state championship romp over Stratford, catching 21 passes for 255 yards and four touchdowns, media members from across the state were enjoying their first view of the 5-foot-7 dynamo. They ate it up like free food.
Hart’s 21 catches were a career-high, but his one-handed touchdown grab on a first half pass from Mason Rudolph was not unusual. Hart now a senior, has been doing this stuff for the last three years. Northwestern coach Kyle Richardson was asked Thursday if he had a favorite Dupree Hart moment.
“Favorite Dupree moments...” Richardson scratched his chin and looked at the player sitting next to him, grinning. After a few jokes, he began.
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“Really, he’s an old man in this program...”
“Worth the price of admission”
Hart has 306 catches over three seasons, an average of 11.4 grabs per game. He caught 88 passes as a freshman, 103 as a sophomore and 115 last fall. The diminutive jitterbug averaged 128 all-purpose yards per game through his first three seasons, and 160 yards per outing last fall when he emerged on the statewide scene. Not included in the stats are the hip-shivers that melt would-be tacklers’ ankles like hot cheese.
“It’s amazing,” said Northwestern senior defensive back Desmond Leak. “We’re amazed by what he does, how fast he is and how good his jukes are.”
Hart’s kickoff return for a touchdown against North Augusta in the 4A state playoffs epitomizes his ability to make six points out of nothing. The then-junior gathered the kick around the 15 and shot straight ahead into a mash-up of bodies. He spun, as if dictated by a video game controller, and slipped out the left end of the pile-up, only visible on a highlight video with the help of a yellow circle that points out which purple shirt is his.
Hart side-stepped a defender before running diagonally backwards for a few yards, fending off two tacklers in the process. Near the sideline at the 30, a North Augusta Yellow Jacket had the cleanest shot at Hart. Hart mashed the brakes, then bolted through the tackler’s arms like he was a turnstile.
With the help of some blockers, Hart scooted down the sideline, one hapless Yellow Jacket defender missing a tackle, then missing again. The final challenge came at the 10-yard line where Hart beat away the limp arm of a tired North Augusta player before trotting into the end zone. Nine broken tackles in 30 seconds, or one every 3.3 seconds.
Richardson recalled a fourth down puntseveral years back. Conway hit a short kick that bounced toward Hart, then a sophomore.
“We were gonna get the ball in really good field position and all the coaches on the sideline were screaming to get away from the ball. We were paying attention to the ball over here, not paying attention to Dupree over here because we thought he would listen to us and stay away from it. All of a sudden he picks the ball up on the bounce, comes into the picture, cuts it back and scores a touchdown.”
The list, the descriptions, could go on.
This fall is the final football act for Hart, a two-sport athlete who committed to play baseball at the College of Charleston in the spring. Hart played travel baseball for much of the summer.
He missed spring football because of Northwestern’s baseball state championship run. That provoked worried whispers and texts exchanged among some corners of the Trojan faithful, but Hart just grinned when asked about that on Wednesday.
“I just think it’d be better for me in the future,” said Hart, about deciding to play college baseball. “When I went on my visit down to Charleston, I absolutely loved it, and (baseball) will be less toll on my body as I move forward in the future. I sat down and talked with my family about it and we’re all comfortable with the decision.”
His dad, Nicky Hart, said Dupree, an AP student who was recruited by Ivy League schools, started leaning in the direction of baseball about a year ago.
“I knew he had to make a decision because he had a lot of trouble playing both right now in high school, and I said, ‘I know when you get to college it’s gonna be kind of trouble if you want to play both, so you need to decide which way you want to go.’”
Father and son also acknowledged Hart’s smaller size, which makes baseball the safer bet in the long run. In the end, it was Dupree’s decision, and his alone.
“I think that comes from dealing with my dad and it was kind of passed down,” Nicky said. “You’re not a coach, you’re not a teacher, you’re a parent. I just stay over there and make sure he got there the right way, get him the right things and make sure he got good people around him.”
Help from my friends
It was never in doubt that Hart would play football one last time for the Purple and Gold. The Trojan slot receiver already owns the South Carolina record for career receptions, with 306, after breaking A.J. Green’s mark last season, and has a number of other state and national records within reach.
Reaching those heights will prove tougher this season, something father and son have already discussed. Double and maybe even triple-team defenses are imminent. Plus, Hart needs another Trojan to emerge as a receiving foil in the same way that Quadarius Fair did last season. Fair caught more than 100 passes, including 28 touchdowns and ensured that teams couldn’t focus on just one Northwestern pass-catcher.
“I know a lot of teams are gonna be double-teaming me,” said Hart, “so I think a lot of young guys are gonna get opportunities to step up.”
There will also be a new quarterback leading the Trojan offense. Rudolph graduated early and headed west to Oklahoma State. While playing baseball, Hart missed valuable reps with the Trojans’ new quarterback, junior Harper Woods. It won’t be easy to duplicate the understanding that Hart had with Rudolph.
“His senior year and my junior year you could see that we had a lot of chemistry,” Hart said. “It was the third year and we both could read each other’s minds.”
Hart said he’s been meeting with Woods at Northwestern to work on routes and timing. The next few weeks of preseason will be crucial for increasing their connectivity.
Mum’s the word
“Everyone tells me I’m not as fast as my dad,” Hart said. “I hate that a lot. And he tells me I’m not as fast as him, so there’s a little competition between us.”
Add in that Nicky Hart graduated from Rock Hill High School, where he still holds track and field records, and there may be more than just a little competition between father and son. It’s impossible to get Nicky to talk about the hypothetical situation of who is faster, though.
“I don’t really remind him of it, because I don’t like to talk about it,” he said. “It’s his time right now. My day is gone. He hears a lot of other people talk about it but basically, for me, I don’t really talk about it. I just sit back and my job now is to be a parent.”
In much the way that Nicky doesn’t talk about his accomplishments, Larry Hart didn’t either. Nicky’s father, Larry was apparently a standout three-sport athlete at Emmett Scott High School.
“People would talk, but my dad, he never told me,” said Nicky, Wednesday evening. “I’ve just heard, just how Dupree probably has heard when I played. But we don’t talk about it.”
Besides, Dupree’s gridiron antics are nothing new to his dad.
“He was doing a lot of things I had kind of already seen him do at a younger age,” Nicky said. “Even at a young age when he was 9 and 10 he would make plays, and you would be like, ‘Wow!’ I always tell him I’m happy he made them but don’t get a big head and act like he’s bigger than everyone.”
That’s hard to do because Hart usually isn’t bigger than anyone on a football field. That hasn’t stopped him yet, though, and there is little reason to believe that his size, extra defensive attention, or a new QB will hamper him much this season either.
“I think he’s ready to handle it and I think the team is ready to handle it,” said Nicky Hart.