Catawba football: Hartsell dedicates season to grandfather

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 8, 2009

By Mike London
Catawba brothers Julian and Alex Hartsell dedicated this football season to a grandfather who passed away earlier this year.
George Hartsell helped shape his grandsons into solid students and vital members of Catawba’s deep group of defensive linemen.
“He helped us some with football but more with life,” Julian Hartsell said. “He did a lot for us. The last game he ever saw me play at Catawba was the Carson-Newman game last year, and that’s the game when I got injured. This season is for him, and in my mind, at least, he’s there now for every game.”
Home and road.
On Saturday at Fayetteville State, it was Hartsell, a 21-year-old from Ridgeview High in Columbia, S.C., who made a pivotal play.
With Catawba trailing 7-0 against the Broncos, the junior made a forceful inside rush, tipped a pass, plucked it out of the air and raced 25 yards for a momentum-swinging score. “Raced” is not an exaggeration. Even though he weighs 300 pounds, Hartsell can sprint 40 yards in 4.8 seconds.
“Julian may be 300, but he was running away from them,” Catawba coach Chip Hester said. “As far as size, speed and strength, he’s exactly what you’re looking for in a defensive lineman, and he he’s still getting better.”
Hartsell, named Catawba’s Defensive Player of the Week, has had to answer questions about his amazing play often. He’s thankful he was in the right place at the right time, but good fortune had only a little to do with it. As Alabama legend Bear Bryant once said, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”
“That play is hard to explain, and I’m still at a loss for words,” Hartsell said. “I do know we spend at least two periods every practice working at stripping the ball and making a play just like that. I got into a gap, got a hand up, and it worked just like practice. Practice carried over.”
It was a play that affected Fayetteville State’s blocking assignments the rest of the way.
“Julian makes that play so they have to double-team him inside,” Hester said. “But then we’ve got a one-on-one matchup outside with Marqus Davis that we like, and Marqus ends up as the SAC Player of the Week.”
In addition to blocking two kicks, Davis had three of Catawba’s eight sacks.
Catawba envisioned Hartsell being a difference-maker when it pursued him vigorously out of high school. Assistant Matt Barrett was the key guy in recruiting Hartsell in 2005.
“I had an ankle injury my senior year,” Hartsell said. “Catawba was the one school that stayed with me. Coach Barrett called every day.”
Hartsell redshirted in 2006. In 2007, he started twice and played in all 13 games. In 2008, he was joined at Catawba by his brother, Alex, who is now 24. Alex had played at The Citadel before joining the work force. He still had eligibility and energy remaining and made a comeback.
Julian played well the first half of last season, but he suffered a high ankle sprain, an injury similar to the one that damaged his recruiting status in high school, in a 21-14 loss to Carson-Newman at Shuford Stadium. That injury limited him severely the last month of the season.
Hartsell spent the past summer in Salisbury working out under the direction of assistant head coach and strength and conditioning guru John Fitz. Hartsell says he elevated his running form substantially.
He also gained several solid pounds without sacrificing any speed, and with his ankle healthy he’s rejoined an impressive defensive line rotation headlined by Davis, All-America candidate Melquan Fair and all-region candidate Brandon Sutton. That contingent also includes another half-dozen excellent players who have been good enough to start at some point in their Catawba careers.
“We all feel we’re all pretty even and we all can play,” said Hartsell, who earned a start at Fayetteville State. “We’re all rotating and it’s working.”
Catawba (2-0) is probably going to be a second-half team all season, as much as anything because its D-line depth is eventually going to wear down and wear out opposing offensive lines.
The Fayetteville State game was a tremendous test. Catawba didn’t play smoothly, made major mistakes, lost its starting quarterback to an injury early, yet found a way to win.
“At this point, we haven’t played a good team game yet,” Hester said. “We’re just a collection of talented individuals right now and not where we want to be. But we are coming together.”
This season means as much to Hartsell as anyone on the team.
After all, he’s dedicated it to a person special in his life.
“Pulling out the Fayetteville State was big for us,” he said. “Sure, a lot went wrong, but like Coach (Khanis) Hubbard told us, it’s a game that we’ll always remember. You forget the blowouts, but you always remember the games you fought to win as a team.”