One of the all-time greatest high school football running backs terrorized opposing defenses in upstate New York in the early 2000s.
From 2000 to 2003, 5-foot-9, 206-pound Mike Hart of Nedrow (New York) Onondaga High School compiled amazing statistics as he led the Tigers to great success. Along the way, he helped lead the program to New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Class D state titles in 2001 and 2003 and to the Class C state title in 2002 – the only state football championships in school history. During his career, Hart led the program to a 46-1 record.
“We had a tremendous team – it wasn’t just me,” Hart said. “We had a great defense and a lot of great athletes who did a great job. It was a fun run during my career.
“Bill Spicer was our head coach. He resurrected the football program after it had been gone for awhile, and got everybody to believe in it. My freshman year on the team was his third year coaching. We went undefeated that year, but got upset in the first round of the playoffs.
“We won the state title three consecutive years – my sophomore year through my senior year. The championship games were played in the Carrier Dome on the Syracuse University campus. It was fun to get on that turf – it was the old ‘rug-burn’ turf. A lot of people don’t realize how loud it gets in there for a high school game. You’d always hope to get to that title game to get to play in that arena – it was really special.
“When I was growing up, I was a big Barry Sanders fan. Because we’re a suburb of Syracuse, I knew who Jim Brown was and heard a lot about his great career both at Syracuse University and in the NFL. But, because of the difference in our ages, I was too young to actually see him play.”
With his tremendous high school football career in The Empire State, it’s not surprising that Hart’s name appears a remarkable 17 times in the NYSPHSAA Football Record Book.
Among those record entries, he holds the top three positions in two separate categories – “Most Points Scored, Season” (406 in 2003, 368 in 2002, and 312 in 2001), and “Most Touchdowns Scored, Season” (67 in 2003, 60 in 2002, and 51 in 2001).
In addition, he holds the state records for “100-yard Rushing Games, Career” with 47 from 2000 to 2003; “200-yard Rushing Games, Season” with 11 in 2001; “Most Points Scored, Career” with 1,246 from 2000 to 2003; “Most Rushing Yards, Career” with 11,045 from 2000 to 2003; “Most Rushing Yards, Season” with 3,489 in 2003; and “Most Touchdowns Scored, Career” with 204 from 2000 to 2003.
Hart ranks third in “200-yard Rushing Games, Season” with 10 in 2003, and sixth in that same category with eight in 2002; second in “Most Rushing Yards, Season” with 3,341 in 2001, and sixth in that same category with 2,866 in 2002; and second in “Most Touchdowns in One Game” with eight in a game played in 2003.
Hart’s accomplishments are equally exemplary at the national level, according to the NFHS’ online National High School Sports Record Book. Entering the 2013 season, he holds the national records for both “Most Points in a Career” with 1,246, and for “Most Touchdowns/Per Game/Season” with 5.2 (set in 2003).
He also ranks third for “Most Touchdowns, Season” with 67, fifth for “Most Points/Per Game/Season” with 31.2, and sixth for “Most Points/Season” with 406 – all set during the 2003 season.
Perhaps his most impressive accomplishment was his charge at the national high school rushing record. With 11,045 career rushing yards, Hart came within 187 yards of Ken Hall’s all-time record of 11,232 yards, which Hall set from 1950 to 1953 at Sugar Land (Texas) High School.
“While we were aware of Hall’s record, it wasn’t something that we were shooting for,” Hart said. “We’d never play for records. We’d get ahead a certain number of points, and they’d take me out of the game. I probably played in 80 percent of each game.
“I’d have to say that my athletic ability and strength were my greatest assets as a high school football player. Because of that, I didn’t get tackled much. I’d generally get 300 yards a game until we got to the playoffs. I also played defense in high school.”
In addition to playing football for Onondaga High School, the athletic Hart played basketball for the Tigers.
“I was a ‘12-point and six-rebound guy,’’’ Hart explained. “We had two really good players, and overall, we had a good basketball team.”
Following high school, Hart played football for the University of Michigan. During his first season there, he set the school freshman record for most rushing yards in a season with 1,455. In addition, he had 26 receptions for 237 yards.
As a sophomore in 2005, he missed considerable playing time due to a hamstring injury and ended up with 662 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns.
The following year, Hart had 1,562 rushing yards, which ranks fifth-best in Michigan history, and also had 14 rushing touchdowns.
Hart capped off his four-year Michigan career in 2007 with 1,361 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns, and was chosen team captain.
During his career, Hart rushed 1,015 times for 5,040 yards, both of which are school records. Exhibiting great ability to hold on to the ball, Hart fumbled just three times during his career – two of which occurred in his final game in the 2008 Capitol One Bowl.
Among his many recognitions, Hart finished fifth in the 2006 Heisman Trophy voting, was named 2004 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and 2007 All-Big Ten Conference First Team, and was chosen team MVP in 2007.
Following his college career, Hart was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Despite constantly battling injuries, Hart played three seasons for the Colts. Having played at all three levels, Hart can look back on his football experience with a broad perspective.
“When you’re in high school, you’re just young,” Hart said. “A big part of high school is just the unknown part – you don’t know if the game you’re playing is going to be the last time you’ll play football or if you’ll ever be around your friends anymore.
“It’s just free-flowing. Everybody who plays high school football really loves it. They’re out there busting their butts working toward their goals, but they enjoy it.
“My greatest memory of playing college football is getting my degree – that’s the most important part of going to college. Starting as a freshman as I did, it can be easy to get distracted. I learned to be level-headed and to do the right things. I was blessed to be able to go to school at the University of Michigan.
“Although I was always hurt, I enjoyed playing for the Indianapolis Colts and I loved the city of Indianapolis. Going through the experience of injuries, I learned a lot about myself and what you play football for. I learned a lot from the “Reggie Waynes” and the “Peyton Mannings” of the world during that time. I still recruit Indianapolis.”
After retiring from the professional game, Hart joined the Eastern Michigan University football coaching staff, where he is now the running backs coach.
“After the Colts didn’t re-sign me, I took a coaching job at Eastern Michigan,” Hart explained. “Although we were young last season, we’ll be good this year. The players have been working very hard at training camp.
“As far as family is concerned, my wife Monique and I have a son, Cameron, who is 2½ years old, and a daughter, Emilia, who is nine months. Monique and I met at Michigan when she was working on her master’s degree. Cameron’s always around our practices – he loves the game and always grabs the footballs. Although he’s obviously still very young, he looks like he probably will play football.”
By John Gillis
Former editor of the National High School Sports Record book.