The Georgia State offense will be welcoming back a key asset this Saturday against Appalachian State (2-2) when sophomore wide receiver Penny Hart returns from injury.
The 5-foot-8 wideout made a name for himself last season when he grabbed 71 receptions for 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns on his way to being chosen Sun Belt Freshman of the year and earning first team all-conference honors.
With Hart’s return, the Panthers (0-3) not only get back a dynamic playmaker but also a player who has been able to evaluate the offense from the outside looking in.
“Me being a leader on this team and being able to see what was actually going on from the sideline, it was better for me to be able to tell them what we have to get better on,” Hart said. “From a side aspect of seeing everything that’s going on, seeing how we practice, seeing how we’re out there playing, executing in certain situations, it was better for me to just sit there, help our team as far as coaching goes, and then when I’m back, I’m back and we’re able to execute those things I was able to see when I wasn’t playing.”
Along with his perspective on how to help improve offensive play, Hart also provides additional leadership in the huddle and gives junior quarterback Conner Manning another reliable target.
In the season opener against Ball State (3-1), Manning was able to connect with Hart five times for 48 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown. Between the work the two did together in the offseason and what they have been able to do in practice this past week they both said their on-field connection is getting back to where it needs to be.
Last season against Appalachian State, Hart pulled in five receptions for 47 yards, which were both team highs. Without Hart in the past two games, Georgia State leaned heavily on senior wide receiver Robert Davis to make up for losing Hart’s production on the outside, but the Panthers were unable to match the scoring output they had in the first game of the year when Hart was playing.
With Hart back on the field now, Manning said the offense is getting back into its groove.
“Just kind of getting back in rhythm with him, getting everyone healthy out there is key,” Manning said. “So we feel like we’re full go on offense and just excited to get back out there on Saturday.”
Hart said he is excited to get back on the field Saturday and it “was slightly depressing” to have to watch the team from the sidelines while he was injured, but if feels great to be back on the field now.
Going into the season, Hart was pegged to be one of the top receivers in the country and was named to the Biletnikoff Award Preseason Watch List. Despite having to spend the last few weeks on the shelf and out of game action, Hart said he expects himself to get right back to where he was and help his team come away with its first victory of the season.
“I’m trying to make a statement to my team and nothing more,” Hart said. “And to make a statement to myself, cause my expectations and my teammates expectations for me are bigger than anyone else’s could possibly be.”