Hartman of gold: Irish quarterback dazzles in home debut
Tyler Reidy | Monday, September 4, 2023
Eight months ago, quarterback Sam Hartman announced his move to Notre Dame after five years at Wake Forest. Since then, the graduate student has pictured the scenes of his first game weekend in South Bend. Still, at no point did Hartman’s experience Saturday come into realistic view.
“Oh, it was surreal. I mean, from the get-go,” Hartman recalled. “Doing mass, coming out — a lot of the guys were saying this is one of the bigger crowds they’ve seen, just on the [player] walk. And for me, it’s all big.”
Though the humble Hartman will never admit it, he was a major catalyst for the added excitement that permeated campus. From the moment Irish fans first laid eyes on the signal-caller in blue and gold, the vast majority was sold. And as the 2023 season approached, Hartman’s presence galvanized the Notre Dame fanbase like few others have in recent memory.
But the question remained: would Hartman live up to the high expectations of quarterbacking the Irish? Two weeks in, he sure has. Following a four-touchdown effort against Navy, Hartman turned in three total scores in the first half Saturday against Tennessee State. He has as many touchdowns (seven) as incompletions with zero interceptions. Unafraid to distribute the football, Hartman hit 10 different targets in just 30 minutes against TSU.
“That’s part of this offense and really our team,” Hartman said. “There’s not one guy that’s got to carry the load. You can dish it to anybody and at any moment they’re going to make explosive plays.”
In his 208-yard home opener, the 24-year-old put on a show. As Notre Dame looked to expand a 7-3 lead in the second quarter, Hartman fired up the crowd of 77,622 with a five-yard touchdown run. He ended the play by front-flipping over a defender and the goal line, rising to his feet and blowing a kiss to the Irish student section.
“[It was] a little me-guy move, so I’m a little disappointed in it, but sometimes it just comes out,” Hartman chuckled. “You know, you gotta get out there and move around a little bit, so it was fun.”
His second signature moment followed as the first-half clock dwindled inside the final minute. As the Irish defense progressed toward a red-zone stop, head coach Marcus Freeman used a pair of timeouts. That allowed Hartman 53 seconds to put points on the board after the Tigers missed their field goal at the Notre Dame 20-yard line.
“I wanted to get the ball in Sam Hartman’s hands to run our offense in that two-minute situation because I’ve seen it over and over — him go out and execute,” Freeman said. “And so I have the utmost confidence that, if we have probably at least 20 to 30 seconds on the clock before half, I’m gonna call time.”
Sure enough, Freeman’s confidence paid off. As was the case a week earlier in Dublin, Hartman ran with the timeout-induced opportunity all the way to the end zone. Only this time, he was borderline perfect. Completing all six passing attempts on the drive, Hartman engineered a touchdown in 38 seconds, bolstering the already impressive trust between himself and his head coach.
“I think we have a great relationship. It’s been very humbling to play for him and be a part of his team,” Hartman said of Freeman. “It’s something I cherish and value a lot. And [I] appreciate his mentorship and his ability to do what he does in the spotlight he has and handle everything that’s thrown at him.”
With Notre Dame ahead 35-3 at halftime, Hartman headed off the field for the day. Often, it’s what he does outside game action that makes him so valuable to his teammates. Defensive lineman Jason Onye enjoys how Hartman goes the extra mile to encourage his defense. Running back Jadarian Price, roommate of sophomore quarterback Steve Angeli, recognizes Angeli’s immense growth as a leader under Hartman’s auspices. In his postgame press conference, the veteran couldn’t help but smile as he discussed Angeli and freshman quarterback Kenny Minchey, who closed out Saturday’s 56-3 win.
“I think this experience, this process for me has been so cool,” Hartman said. “And obviously we’ve got a lot of ball left to play and a lot of moments and memories still to make, but [this was] a great one to start with.”
While Hartman’s introduction to Notre Dame football couldn’t have gone much better, it represents only a small fraction of his season checklist. Next up: a trip to Raleigh, where the Irish will face their first Power Five opponent of 2023 — NC State. Hartman faced the Wolfpack in each of his final three seasons at Wake Forest.
“We understand the challenge at hand, especially on the road,” Hartman said. “It’s a very hostile environment. Their fans are going to bring it. They’re not going to like us.”
Among his many lessons learned from year one on the job, Freeman understands that Notre Dame will get every team’s best shot. In the case of 2023, that goes beyond just Ohio State, USC and Clemson. More often than not, Hartman and his offense will play with imperfections. Some will prove more costly than others. But Freeman feels he has the ideal gunslinger to overcome every bump in the road.
“The thing about Sam is the ability for him to come over to me and say ‘I’m good,’ [if] he made maybe an error or two,” Freeman said. “That experience is so important. He’s a heck of a football player, but [he has] the ability to handle the elements. He is a very experienced player and I’m sure glad we have him.”