Hartline Enjoys 'Utility Man' Role

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Brian Hartline expected to make an impact for Ohio State this season, but he didn't think he'd be playing so much on special teams. Hartline has embraced the role and was named OSU's special units player of the week for his performance against Michigan State. We caught up with him earlier in the week for more.

One of the key role players for Ohio State this season is redshirt freshman wide receiver Brian Hartline.

The native of North Canton, Ohio, has five receptions for 96 yards (19.2 yards per catch) and has been used a lot in four-wide sets. And recently, he's also made his mark on special teams. In fact, Hartline was named OSU's special teams player of the week for his performance against Michigan State, which included four tackles and a nice block on Ted Ginn Jr.'s touchdown on a punt return.

"I just take it as another way to help the team," Hartline said. "Last year I redshirted, so I wasn't in the right position to help the team as much as I would have liked to. And special teams, that's exactly what it is: a way to help the team in a big way. With the injury of Anderson Russell, I was behind him on a couple of them and now I'm getting more opportunities. The momentum of the game can switch on special teams, especially plays like long punt returns like we showed at Michigan State."

Hartline (6-3, 180) was a star quarterback as a youth and moved to wide receiver four games into his junior season at GlenOak High School to make room for his brother, Mike Hartline, who is now a freshman QB at Kentucky.

Brian Hartline had 41 receptions for 411 yards as a junior in 2003 and was set for a huge senior campaign. However, he suffered a season-ending leg injury in the season-opener and endured months of rehab. But, somewhat surprisingly, he didn't lose any of his speed and managed to come back in time to win Division I state track championships in the 110 and 300 hurdles as a senior.

So, Hartline expected he would make an impact at OSU when he was given an opportunity. But he thought it would be just at wideout, not on special teams. However, he's turned into quite the utility man for the Buckeyes.

"No, I never played special teams before (other than returning kicks)," Hartline said. "Basically what I try and do is run down the field as fast as I can and smack somebody. I know that special teams can make a big impact with one play and that's the mentality I try and take."

But if you really want to put a smile on Hartline's face, ask him about breaking into a very deep and talented WR corps that includes Ginn, Anthony Gonzalez, Brian Robiskie and Roy Hall. Thanks to the evolution of OSU's offense, and the proficiency of quarterback Troy Smith, the Buckeyes are using a lot of four-wide sets and Hartline is getting his share of playing time. He knows that Ginn and Gonzalez are the go-to players this year, but he is definitely enjoying his role.

"It's been great," Hartline said. "Just like anything else, winning games and also the competition at your position is why you come to Ohio State. Competition can make the lowest player the greatest player. It gives you the drive to be the best. As long as you are able to not be big-headed about yourself and realize that people sometimes are better than you, but if you can take the talent they have and notice what they do and put it in yourself, one day hopefully you can fill their shoes and help the team win games."

Gonzalez is nothing less than a first-down machine this season as 29 of his 34 receptions have moved the chains.

"Gonzo has a knack for that. He has a knack for getting open," Hartline said. "When a receiver gets the ball in their hands they are expected to make a big play, whether it's a first down or more. And that's kind of what separates teams from being good or being great. So, Gonzo has definitely has taken that under his wing to be the guy that is known (for getting first downs).

"Even as players we call third-and-long ‘third and Gonzo' and stuff. We make jokes about that, but no, he really has a knack for getting open and he knows what he needs to do."

Hartline had a big block in the Iowa game to spring Gonzalez's 30-yard touchdown in which he took out two Hawkeye defenders. You look at Hartline and think there's no way he would be a good blocker with his slender frame. But all it takes is the will and he has plenty.

"I like to block," he said. "It's those small things that our linemen do every play that they sometimes don't get credit for. And for a receiver to do that sometimes, I think it speaks volumes about our team and the people on our team and that aspect of the game. Coaches always say to make an impact in the running game, not just catching balls. We want to make sure we get the running backs out of the backfield."

Hartline obviously enjoys playing with Smith, the front-runner for the Heisman. Smith is known for gunning the ball to his receivers at times, although he can put plenty of touch on the ball when need be. But Hartline talked specifically about Smith's fastballs.

"I guess that just comes with having a quarterback like Troy," he said. "If you want him to make you look good, then sometimes you have to make him look good. But, it's difficult. But it's expected to happen. He's got a strong arm but you've got to catch his balls. And sometimes it's more scary not catching the ball and going back to him than facing the ball itself.

"But he knows how to put good touch on the ball, so it's kind of rare (that he would throw one too hard). He knows how to throw the velocity of the ball. But we hit the Jugs machine a lot to prepare for him. Most of the time he puts really good touch on the ball, but he wings it in practice so we kind of get an idea of what's going on. But especially in games with everything happening so quick, it can be pretty difficult sometimes."

Hartline says he's awestruck at times with some of the plays that Smith pulls off. He knows he's spoiled to have arguably the nation's best quarterback on his side and he thinks Smith is even better in big moments when the pressure is on.

"It seems that way," Hartline said. "It seems that he has never not shown up for a big game or with something on the line. When we need to score a touchdown, he seems to always be there. So, I think that's a trait that you really can't teach, I think that's just something he has. He has a will to win. And even the players, we feel it. Like with Troy, we can't lose."

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