Smallish Hart coming up big for Georgia State

Penny Hart first heard he wasn’t big enough when he was in sixth grade and trying out for running back.

“Then we came out, and I was making plays,” he said.

He has been making plays since, including a lot in Georgia State’s 34-32 victory over New Mexico State on Saturday. Hart, all 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds of him, tied a Georgia State record with 11 receptions. Hart ranks second on the team with 12 receptions this season and leads the Panthers with 203 yards and three touchdowns. Mostly unknown before the season because of the depth of Georgia State’s wide receivers, Hart moved into the slot for the injured Donovan Harden and has given the Panthers another weapon.

“I love him,” coach Trent Miles said.

It took Hart’s size, and the effect it had on recruiting, and a special day two summers ago, for him to sign with Georgia State.

“Penny is why you have summer football camps,” wide receivers coach Tim Lappano said.

Hart played at King’s Ridge Christian, a small high school that coaches at FBS programs don’t flock to. Hart said he received a lot of letters from colleges, but just as many rejections once they learned that he didn’t fit the physical mold that so many coaches prefer for positions. Charlotte, Georgia State’s season-opening opponent, was one of those schools.

Georgia State quarterbacks coach Luke Huard knew who Hart was, but the staff didn’t know much about him. Hart also changed positions many times as a senior, starting at wide receiver before moving to running back and then to quarterback, which can make it hard to figure out where he should play.

Hart kept working to get noticed.

He attended a Kennesaw State camp and left with no offers.

He then attended a Georgia State camp — the same one that Penn State’s coaches attended — and began to impress.

Lappano said in 2 1/2 hours at the camp, Hart took a “million reps,” which showed the coaches that he was a competitor. Seeing his toughness, his enthusiasm and his intelligence led Georgia State’s coaches to soon offer Hart a scholarship.

“When you get a kid on your campus in camps and he does all that stuff, you don’t make mistakes,” Lappano said. “We obviously didn’t make a mistake with him. He’s a solid football player.”

Hart’s name kept coming up before preseason camp when players were asked who impressed during the summer.

Night after night, quarterback Nick Arbuckle would bring Hart and first-year quarterback Aaron Winchester to the practice complex after summer workouts. They would watch film and work on routes.

“He was really getting us ready for the season, getting involved and just making sure that we were able to know the plays and know what we were supposed to,” Hart said.

Hart began to put what he learned into the August practices. Lappano said he noticed Hart “a little bit” in training camp, but he really took notice of him during the second scrimmage. Hart ran good routes, caught the passes thrown to him and blocked well on running plays.

“When the lights come one, that kid is at his best,” Hart said.

After a slow opener, studying film with Arbuckle the night before the team left for Las Cruces was enough for Hart to see that he and other receivers that play the slot were in for a big game.

He delivered, as he has every time he’s been told he’s not big enough.

“I can’t do anything about people that don’t believe in me because of my height,” he said. “I wouldn’t be the player I am if wasn’t the size that I am. I wouldn’t work as hard if I wasn’t the size I am. I love my height.”