Say what you will about Mike Hartline. One of the most criticized players in recent UK football history, the guy was more than a “serviceable” quarterback for the Cats during his career in Lexington.
UK fans might well better remember Hartline for the games he missed – knocked out of the South Carolina game with a knee injury, when it appeared the Cats were headed for an upset on the road; legal issues forcing him out of last season’s bowl loss to Pittsburgh – than for his steady improvement from his sophomore season to last year.
Call it lack of respect. Call it a misunderstanding.
Hartline parlayed a stellar senior season – 3,178 yards, 23 touchdown and only nine interceptions – into an opportunity to play for pay.
The Canton, Ohio native is in Indianapolis where he will be in training camp with the Colts, one of five Wildcats who will sign free agent contracts, and the fifth straight UK quarterback to do so.
Hartline has a real shot to be Peyton Manning’s backup.
“It goes kind of the same way you get recruited out of high school into college,” Hartline told 27 SportsFirst, before heading out of town. “You want a chance, you get an opportunity, you take it and the rest is up to you.”
Hartline joins Derrick Locke (Vikings), DeQuin Evans (Bengals), Ricky Lumpkin (Cardinals) and Chris Matthews (Browns) as free agents entering camps this weekend. All could be considered underdogs as they try to make a roster.
“There is a little bit in the back of your mind, that, ‘I didn't get drafted, I want to make the best of my opportunities.’ But right now, it's a clean slate,” he said. “Nobody cares about you and you shouldn't care about them. All you need to care about is working your tail off to make the team.”
Hartline knows firsthand about the business of football. If his experiences at UK don’t prepare him, then brother Brian, a wide receiver with the Dolphins, has told him all about the cutthroat nature of the NFL.
“He goes in every year like his job is about to be taken,” Hartline said. “You just have to be a confident player, understand where your abilities are and improve on those.”
“It's definitely a cut throat business. One day you might be on the team and one day you might be released. You never know how it's going to go, so these guys in any organization are stressed to have your best, every day.”
While his career at UK didn’t end on an uptick, like most would have wanted, Hartline is thankful it wasn’t worse.
“I'm just glad that it’s over and I have a place to go,” he said. “My future is intact and I have something to work towards and I'm glad it's football. This should be a great opportunity and I'm going to make the most of it.”