On the eve of his final game as a high school quarterback, Mike Hartline of GlenOak High School was thinking about nothing more than the opponent that he and his Golden Eagle teammates would be facing on the following night.
"I'm really just thinking about the last game of the season and finishing out strong," Hartline said. "I want to help my senior teammates finish on a good note and help them win their last game as a senior. I just want to go out with a bang."
It's hard to believe that Hartline, with a slingshot arm and a tremendous will to become a better all-around signal caller, was at one time regarded by some as the golden boy of the 2006 recruiting class. Some even said, with a degree of serious, that Ohio State recruited Brian Hartline so that they could have a better chance at landing his younger brother.
Well if his brother, who just happened to be his top receiving candidate last year, didn't sustain a season-ending injury in week one of his senior campaign, Mike Hartline may have had an Ohio State scholarship in his pocket before his senior season even began.
Instead Mike's junior season was riddled with a few more interceptions and dropped passes than he cared for and his senior season, as it comes crashing to an end, was filled with so many unfulfilled expectations.
"Individually, to tell you the truth, I'm disappointed with how everything turned out but I wouldn't change anything I ever did in the preseason because I worked my butt off," he said. "I'm happy with my effort, as far as that goes, but obviously I wish everything turned out better so I'm just hoping for, in this last game, that things will turn out great for us."
Through nine games this year, Hartline has thrown for 1,344 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions, and, somewhat surprisingly, on the ground he's rushed for 532 yards, with a 4.8 average per carry, and 11 TDs. Last year Hartline threw for about 2,400 yards with 16 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in 12 games.
"Personally I wanted to improve my completion percentage, which has gone up a little bit this year but not too much," Hartline said. "But I'm really happy with what Coach (Jack) Rose did with us, as far as the seniors go. From last year to this year, even though I'm the quarterback, he made me be more of a leader. He made me be more of person that my teammates can trust and that's something that I'm definitely going to take with me to the next level."
Midway through his sophomore season, Hartline took over the quarterback position from his older brother and now his senior season is all but behind him.
"It's really amazing how far I've actually come as a quarterback," he said. "I'm sure it's going to be a very emotional night (Friday night) and I probably will get emotional but I'm ready to take that step forward, I'm ready to improve my game and I'm ready to take it to the next level."
Just where at on that next level is what Hartline will focus in on the most right after his season ends.
"As far as recruiting goes, I can't complain with what I have," he said. "I'm probably not going to go where I wanted to go as far as what schools I had planned on going to in the summer but wherever I'm going to go, I'm going to put my heart and dedication into it and I know I'll be happy. Wherever place I go, I know that I'm going to give 110 percent and I'm not going to look back to what I could have had."
Despite the disappointing 4-5 record, Hartline really believes that he's made solid strides at quarterback this season.
"I think I've improved a great deal on the mental aspect of my game," he said. "The physical side of my game has grown as well. My quickness and the power in my throw has improved but the mental side has really come along a lot more and that's what I wanted to improve on."
And he even added a whole new dimension to his game this year. In an early-season shootout against Akron Garfield, Hartline was actually more effective running with the ball down the stretch run of that game than he was throwing it.
"I think I'm a dual threat. I can pull the ball down and run and I can throw it as well," said Hartline who has been a versatile track performer for a number of years now. "With my size and my weight, people don't think I can do that but I really can if you watch me on the field. I can run as much as I can throw and that's what we've kind of experienced this season."
But his weight for his size and his inconsistency through the air have been the two major concerns that have followed Hartline around these last two seasons.
"Yeah I'm a buck 90 (190 pounds) and at 6-6 some people think that the weight's just not there," he said. "And I also haven't been that consistent but at the same time I don't have the talent around me here that I will in college. If you put the talent out there with me, as far as the receivers go, I think I can be as good as anybody."
Confidence and determination are definitely not lacking in Hartline's game.
"I think I have as much confidence as anybody does," he said. "When I go out there on the field I don't doubt myself at all. I know that I'm confident enough in myself to know that I'm the best player out there and I can beat anybody. And that's not really a cocky thing, it's a confidence thing. If you go out there and think you're the best player, you're going to be the best player."
A few big-time programs still think Hartline is a pretty good player and he's happy about that.
"I can't be disappointed about it. I like the options that I have," he said. "Wherever I'm going to go I think I'm going to grow as much as a quarterback there as I will anywhere else."
Right now, Kentucky and Illinois seem to be the two teams that interest Hartline the most.
"I'm taking a visit (official) this weekend to Kentucky. They really want me," he said. "They're really interested in me and they've got a great quarterback coach. And I'm going to Illinois in December (Dec. 3 weekend). But I want to take two more visits so I'm going to stretch it out as far as I can because I have to be 100 percent confident in myself about where I want to go or I'm not going to be satisfied."
He wants to take an official visit to Wisconsin and Michigan State as well. All four of his top schools have offered him a scholarship.
"Both Illinois and Kentucky, the two schools I'm really considering, have great coaches that I can really go far with," Hartline said. "They've all coached NFL quarterbacks and that's something that I'm looking forward to now. You can't help looking forward to the next level and the next level after that.
"So even though those schools haven't been the best schools in the past, they're going to be up-and-coming schools, and they're going to be schools that people are going to have to look out for. They have great coaching staffs and I have no doubt in myself that, even going to those kind of schools, that I'm going to be happy."
Inconspicuously or not, Ohio State is far removed from that list of Hartline favorites.
"I'm not sure what went wrong really. It might have been my camp performance," Hartline said. "I like going to camps but obviously my performance (at Ohio State), as I critique myself, wasn't that great there as it was at some of the others. I thought I did well but obviously there wasn't something there that they were looking for. But I'm the type of person that is going to make them regret that. I want to go to a school now where I can prove everybody wrong and I hope that I can do that one day."
Although he's put it behind now, Hartline admits that it would have been great if things would have worked out some way for him with Ohio State.
"I really miss my brother and I really wish that I could be down there with him," he said. "And if Ohio State offered right now I would definitely want to go there. It's a great school and I've been there a million times and I would love to go there. I do regret them not coming around to look at me more but I really think that it's just the quarterback situation. They have so many good quarterbacks over there and it was just bad timing for me. I don't know what else I could do effort-wise that I hadn't done already."
Hartline's teammate Ryan Palmer recently committed to Illinois and that's definitely a school Hartline can see himself ending up at.
"I'm very happy for Ryan, he deserves everything he has," Hartline said. "He's a great player and a great kid. He has a great mental attitude and a great physical attitude and it's definitely a possibility, I would say there's great chance for me to go play at Illinois with him."
He'll continue competing in track for GlenOak this spring but the main focus is all football for Hartline now.
"I'm not the superior athlete in track as a Brian (Hartline) or a Ted Ginn Jr. is, they're really great and they have a really great future in that sport," Hartline said. "So as far as track goes I'm going to do it in the spring just to stay in good physical shape and help my team. They depend on me and I depend on them."
But the clock is running out on his senior season in football. In a way he's already surpassed all of the expectations that he's ever had for himself in the sport already.
"Just being able to have the an opportunity to play such a big part in this game has been a great experience for me," Hartline said. "There was a time in my life when I was young that I didn't know if I would even have a chance to play football with my brother being ahead of me. We played the same position, even as freshmen and sophomores, so I never thought I was actually going to play a lot of football at all. So I really and truly accept myself and I'm thankful that I've stayed with it and never gave up on myself."
Winning his last high school football game now is all that Hartline was expecting to dream about when his head hit the pillow on Thursday night.
"Winning (Friday). That's the biggest thing," he said. "Winning tomorrow is all that really matters now. And not letting my teammates down is really important as well. They expect a lot out of me and I expect a lot of them and they know that. So I'm just going to dream about winning tomorrow and then I'll deal with everything else afterward."
It's his last chance to wear the Green and Gold that guys like Dustin Fox and his brother have so proudly worn before him and he knows that the emotions will be flowing around game time.
"It hasn't hit me yet. But I'm sure tomorrow during pre-game it will definitely hit me," Hartline said. "I definitely know it's my last high school game and I'm not going to hold anything back. It's going to be a very emotional day and that's good. I want to be emotional with them. Some of my teammates will never put pads on again and I want to be right there with them to share that feeling."
And, more than anything else, Hartline wants to help them go out as winners.