Defenders Must Remain Leery of Texas Techs Donnie Hart
Red Raider Wide Receiver has become an offensive leader in his senior year.
September 29, 1998
By Greg Hulen
When Donnie Hart opened the 1998 football season with six receptions for 164 yards and a touchdown against the University of Texas El-Paso, there were smiles all around Jones Stadium and the 41,087 in attendance. The senior captain and offensive leader of the Red Raiders from Wolfforth, Texas, was back in top form. Just ask the defensive backs he left in the dust, theyll tell you. For the past three years, Hart has supplied Texas Tech fans with fond memories that will always be chronicled in the annals of the football teams history. As a freshman, he caught a crucial 26-yard touchdown pass in the Red Raiders victory over Texas A&M. He followed that up his sophomore year with an incredible performance against Texas. Hart caught five passes for 241 yards (the Big 12 single-game high that year), including an 86-yard touchdown reception where he sent Longhorn defender Taje Allen flying with a stiff arm. Last year as a junior, he had seven catches for 118 yards, including a 48-yard reception, in the season-opener at national powerhouse Tennessee on ESPN. The list of top performances could go on and on not bad for a guy that wasnt even heavily recruited coming out of Frenship High School just down the road. At Frenship, Hart was named the Class 4A-5A South Plains Player of the Year and Class 4A first-team all-state. His senior year, he led all 4A teams in receiving with 52 catches for 1,049 yards and 13 touchdowns. Yet, surprisingly few coaches came calling. I felt like I would be able to come in and play in college, Hart said. I wasnt the most highly recruited guy coming out of high school, not a lot of people knew who I was. I have used that as motivation. I felt I was the kind of player that could come in and make a difference at a program. It was tough when you are going through recruiting and there is not a whole lot of offers. I appreciate the coaching staff for giving me a chance to come here and get an education and play football. I think it has worked out great for all of us. Hart could probably best be described as strong, silent and deadly on the playing field. When it is crunch time there are few others who can produce his results. I think that Donnie is a unique individual because he plays with such intensity, Texas Tech receivers coach Dick Winder said of Hart. Hes a great practice player, and, as a result of that, a great game player. More than anything, I think hes a tremendous leader by example. The guy loves to go out and play football. Hes tough and does a great job. This season, Hart has a touchdown catch each of the first four games and has been the catalyst for Texas Techs fast start. He caught a 45-yard touchdown pass against Texas-El Paso to ignite the Red Raiders to the easy season-opening victory. A week later against North Texas, he did the same thing when he and Matt Tittle hooked up for a 44-yard scoring strike on Techs first offensive play from scrimmage. At Iowa State, Hart hauled in five passes for 163 yards and a 68-yard touchdown during Techs 24-point second-half blitz. He has caught 18 of Techs 47 completions for 448 yards. Hart is 14th in the country with 112.0 yards per game. When we need a big play, he is going to make it, Winder said. I think the tougher it gets, the better he likes it. I think he is one of the top two or three receivers Ive coached in my career. He may end up being the best before it is all over. Hes very consistent, catches the ball and runs great patterns. The big thing about him is that he is such a competitor. Its a big help having him on the field, quarterback Rob Peters said. Hes a great receiver. If youre in a bind and scrambling around, you can look for him because he is going to get open somehow. Those who follow college football have realized Harts special talent. Despite only playing seven games in 1997, he was named a first-team All-Big 12 selection by the Dallas Morning News and Football News and to the second-team by the Big 12 coaches. Coming into 1998, he was named one of the top five receivers in the nation by The Sporting News and the top receiver in the Big 12 by many publications. Hart credits a large part of his development as a player to Spike Dykes and his coaching staff. The coaching staff has been wonderful, Hart said. They have given me every opportunity to succeed. They have been a tremendous influence on my life. They have helped me succeed at the college level, teaching me about responsibility and discipline. I owe a lot to those guys, and I appreciate what they have invested in me and this program. Yet, despite all the statistics and honors, many questions surround the star split end in his final season as a Red Raider. Can he stay healthy? How will he adjust to new quarterbacks Rob Peters and Matt Tittle after three years with Zebbie Lethridge? Is there a shot at the NFL in his future? Unfortunately, injuries have been a large part of Harts time at Texas Tech. During his sophomore year of 1996, he suffered a concussion against Kansas State that occurred when he was hit by two defensive players near the end of the game. He was forced to sit out the next game and caught only two passes over the next four games. However, he rebounded against Texas and put together a solid season. Last season, injuries cut Harts year short. After going over 100 yards receiving in three of the first four games, he was slowed by a hamstring injury suffered against Kansas. Although he was able to return briefly in two games, his productive season was over. Hart and the Red Raiders were left to ponder what could have been. The injuries Ive had have been unfortunate and freak, Hart said. They were both things that normally dont happen. Im going to remember how it felt to sit on the sidelines and watch last year. I was in the middle of a pretty good start and felt pretty confident in myself and the offense. To have it cut short was very disappointing. But, I still have one more year and I can use that experience as a positive motivating factor. Another interesting factor coming into this season was the quarterback question. Would Hart still be productive even without three-year starter Lethridge throwing passes to him? Already, he has answered all doubters. Whether it is Tittle or Peters throwing the ball, the results are the same. A spectacular game against Texas-El Paso was followed up with three receptions for 78 yards and a touchdown performance against North Texas. After his first two games, Hart already had more yards receiving then he did his entire freshman year. If he can stay healthy, Hart is poised to reach the upper echelon of the nations receivers and set some records along the way. Zebbie threw a lot of big passes to me here, and I think his career at Texas Tech was one of the best, Hart said. It was fun to play with him. With Rob and Matt, I hope my future and their future holds a lot of touchdown passes together. I want them to throw a ton of passes my way. Despite all these accomplishments, Hart, one of this years team captains, remains soft spoken. He isnt the most vocal guy in the huddle or the locker room. Instead, he lets his actions do the talking loudly. We have a group of young receivers who look up to him and model their play after him, Winder said. He does a great job of setting the standard for others. I dont feel any pressure to be leader, Hart said. Im just going to go out and play as hard as I can and let my results on the field speak for me. Im not going to be a guy that comes in and gets everybody fired up through my speeches. I lead by example. As for the NFL question, Hart remains optimistic. Id love to play in the NFL, and I think any college player would. Im not counting on anything because the odds are pretty well stacked against you. But, I would love to coach on the high school or college level and just enjoy my life no matter what Im doing. No matter what happens after Harts career is over, Red Raider fans will always remember the star receiver from Frenship High, who always seemed to have the big game. A excellent performer, team leader and quality individual, he is someone all of Texas Tech can be proud to have associated with the university.