UA All-American Bobby Hart is only 16 years old, but his ability is well beyond his years
There won't be many players in Wednesday's Under Armour All-America Game bigger than offensive lineman Bobby Hart (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas), who is 6-foot-5, 300 pounds and sports a size 15 cleat. And because he's 16 years, 5 months old, there won't be any players younger than the four-star prospect, either.
But that's nothing new for Hart, who has been competing against older players all his life.
"It never really mattered to me," Hart said. "Back when I was playing sports at 10 years old, I was usually in the 13-14-15 age group."
However, when Hart's recruitment began to pick up at age 15, he would have been better off bringing his birth certificate instead of game video.
"Most of the coaches that I talked to didn't believe me, and they wanted to call my parents to make sure I was telling the truth," Hart said. "Other coaches were excited because they could just imagine how much better I was going to get with age."
It turns out those coaches had reason to be excited after Hart's senior season, which saw him anchor an offensive line on an undefeated St. Thomas Aquinas team that took home a Florida Class 5A state championship and finished No. 1 in the FAB 50 ESPN RISE national team rankings.
Hart shined brightest in the state championship game against Plant (Tampa, Fla.) when his crushing lead block sprung sophomore running back Fred Coppet for a 93-yard touchdown as the first half ended.
It was the sort of performance that St. Thomas Aquinas coach George Smith expected from Hart.
"The maturity level that Bobby showed from the time he came into the program to the final game was unbelievable," Smith said. "Every day he grew up on the practice fields, and it translated to the games."
Smith and Hart both credit the guidance of St. Thomas Aquinas' offensive line coach Jay Connolly for his continued development.
"Bobby received a lot of tough coaching from Coach Connolly, and he bought into it," Smith said. "He didn't sulk. He didn't complain. He understood what we were trying to do. By the end of the season you didn't look at him like a normal 16-year-old."
Hart said that Connolly's style forced him to be more accountable.
"In the past, when I made a mistake, it could have been dismissed because of my age," Hart said. "But Coach Connolly made me responsible for my actions. If I had a bad game, he wasn't going to accept my age as an excuse for it.
"It started with the first spring practice, and I was like, 'Whoa, what's going on here?' But he was right. I listened to him, and he refined my technique."
Part of the reason Hart's family moved him from Cardinal Gibbons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) to St. Thomas Aquinas for his senior season was the feeling that its style of coaching would prepare him for what he'd see in college.
"When we started to realize that there was a good chance that Bobby would be playing major college football, it was important to put him in a situation that could best prepare him for that," said Chris Hart, Bobby's father. "At St. Thomas Aquinas they do a great job of setting high expectations and training the kids with a routine very similar to what you would see in college. So even though he'll be just 16 when he steps on the Florida State campus, he's going to be familiar with some of that routine and those expectations."
Hart is a solid student with a 3.2 GPA, and his father said that the one area in which expects his son to immediately apply himself is academics.
"One thing about the players that come through the Aquinas program is that they are ready for college-level academics," Chris Hart said.
But is Hart ready for the level of play he will see in college and the coaching he will receive from FSU offensive line coach Rick Trickett, a former Marine who epitomizes the tough part of tough love? Miami Herald recruiting reporter Larry Blustein has been following Hart's progress for years and believes that physically, he is already there.
"Bobby is a terrific athlete; he's wrestled for two years and he also plays basketball," Blustein said. "He's very strong, probably as strong as anybody he will go against."
But Blustein also feels that there will be a learning process with Hart, as with most players just stepping into college.
"He was only at Aquinas for one year, so he's just being introduced to that high level of play," he said. "Now he's going to be facing players that are physically his equal, and they will be older with more tricks and ways to confuse him.
"It's not going to be as easy as it was for him in high school, and he isn't going to be able to just rely on his talent alone. But I believe he's going to excel at Florida State, and we'll see him playing on Sundays in the NFL."
To Hart's credit, he understands the challenges that face him at the next level, and part of the reason he committed to FSU was the Seminoles' expectations.
"As I got to spend more time around Tallahassee and with the coaching staff, I could see the way they were building up the players on the team," Hart said. "It's competitive, but it's also a great learning environment. It really feels like home."
Hart will enroll in June and will be roommates with his best friend and current teammate Rashad Greene, an ESPNU 150 four-star wide receiver. Hart said that the coaches haven't discussed the possibility of a redshirt season, but "if it happens, it happens."
He is looking forward to this week's practices leading up to Wednesday's Under Armour All-America Game, and as a White team member, he already has studied the Red team's defensive line and has his eye on one particular player.
"You know I'm looking hard at [Jadeveon Clowney]," Hart said. "He's the No. 1 player in the nation, and if you want to be the best, you have to target the biggest dog. "We were No. 1 at Aquinas, and everyone came after us. So you know I have to challenge him and take care of business."
Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2011 Under Armour All-America Game
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