Coach Spotlight: Dee Hart
"When you first saw Dee play you knew you had something different with him," said Booker. "There was a glow he had about him we could see as a freshman. We knew we had a player."
Playing on the JV squad, Hart was called up mid-season due to injuries to starters. He made the Panthers lone kickoff return for a touchdown on the season and had a 100-yard game. The next year Kevin Booker took over as offense coordinator.
"In the past we had run a Wing T and I went to more of a spread," said Booker. "That's when Dee really started to shine. He became a big weapon in our offense leading he team in rushing and was second in receiving. He set a school record with 170 receiving yards in a game and did it with only three catches."
As a junior, Hart would make even further strides as a player accounting for 2,000 all-purpose yards and helping the Panthers achieve their highest win total in school history with 11.
"We featured a two back system with Marvin Ford, who's now at Norfolk State, as the bigger back, and Dee as more of a scat back," said Booker. "He and Kenny Shaw (now at FSU) were the two big playmakers on the team. Dee was a big part of that team being so successful."
Unfortunately for Hart, Booker, and the Panthers, they lost in the 2009 playoffs in a five overtime epic to Apopka, 58-52, the longest football game in Florida state history. After a loss like that, Hart and the Panthers came into 2010 with a chip on their collective shoulders.
"Dee's senior year is when you saw it all come together for him as a true running back," said Booker. "His field vision, ability to break tackles, his cuts, and leg strength was unbelievable. He was our guy on offense. It didn't hurt that the offense line was better, but this was clearly a bigger, stronger, harder running Dee Hart."
As a senior, Hart put up 2,218 rushing yards with 40 touchdowns. Hart added 518 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He had 281 punt return yards with two touchdowns.
"There were four games this year which Dee rushed for over 200 yards," said Booker. "In one game he had six touchdowns in the first half, and we didn't play him in the second half. In four games he took the first play from scrimmage for a touchdown, and two of those games were in the playoffs. In a few games the players from the other teams were doing some jawing, calling us "overrated" so it was nice to see Dee bust one of them right off the bat."
The Panthers would go 14-1 on the season falling to Miami Central in the state finals. After the season, Hart would commit to Alabama after previously being committed to Michigan and showcase his skills in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio.
"I think Dee felt comfortable with the coaching staff at Alabama," said Booker. "He liked Coach Saban and said he thought he spoke to him genuinely without trying to sound like he was selling him anything. Coach Saban talked with Dee about what Alabama has and where he'd fit in and didn't making any promises or guarantees. He told him if you're going to get early playing time he was going to have to work to earn it."
Hart rushed for 100 yards in eight carries in the U.S. Army game becoming the first player in the game's history to reach the 100 yard mark. He was named the game's MVP. Coach Booker expects to see Hart make an immediate impact at the next level.
"Yes!," Book said emphatically. "I may be biased, but I can say objectively that this kid is honestly special. People question his size (5-9, 190), but some of the best running backs in NFL history were small like Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith. I'm not trying to compare him to those guys, but it wouldn't surprise me if he turned into that type of player. He's ultra- athletic, ultra-driven, and ultra-intelligent. Some of the things Dee can do are just uncoachable."
The class of 2011 at Dr. Phillips won't graduate until June 10th, but Hart has decided to finish up early and has begun class at the University of Alabama. He took honor classes in high school and graduated with a 3.6 GPA.
"Dee is the best kid I've ever coached," Booker said. "He did a great job in the classroom. At some high schools the academic staff and the athletic staff are often at odds, but Dee crossed those barriers. He was loved by the teachers, students, and coaches alike.
"In his life he's overcome adversity most of us would never be able to rebound from. I won't comment on what it was, but just say it's amazing and a tribute to the incredibly strong person he is to have come out of that situation and thrive not only on the field but in the classroom. He's just a great kid."
Dee Hart wore No. 4 for the Panthers. At Dr. Phillips he also participated in track and basketball.
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