Sometimes players get a bad rap from fans and it sticks with them throughout their careers and they simply cant shake it. One of the recent great to wear the Kentucky uniform was Keith Bogans, but because of a Junior year in which he struggled, many fans never embraced him, even though his Senior year was lights out. On the football side, the same thing happened at times with Shane Boyd, as early struggles made fans continue to be hard on him, even as performance dramatically improved. Often players fit the storylines that fans create and no amount of changed play can alter those initial impressions.
I think we are seeing some of that this season with Mike Hartline. Through two games, Hartline has been more than solid and has looked like a different QB on the field. During the Miami game, he played almost flawlessly, making plays that we havent seen him make and throws that were nearly perfect. Similarly, against Louisville, he took the Cats on not one, but two, comeback drives and was 20-27 for the day, making some very impressive throws. He had one INT that may or may not have been his fault, but otherwise had another solid day, and helped the Cats reach 2-0.
Nevertheless, when Hartline had his one error, the fumble on the ill-conceived option run, there were groans and mumbles from the fans in the stands. “Same old Hartline” was the title of one post on TCP and the fans who complained last year became vocal again this year. Why exactly is that? If the kid plays two games of solid game management, a few great throws and overall positive offensive possessions, can you not forgive one mistake here or there? Did Andre’ Woodson, Tim Couch, Jared Lorenzen or Dusty Bonner never throw a pick or make a fumble? They all did, but for the most part the narrative on those kids is that they were all very good players and thus mistakes were acceptable and not a sign that they werent talented enough for the position. Hartline doesnt seem to get that same level of acceptance…at least not yet.
Kentucky has been blessed over the years to have an amazing run of top-level quarterbacks. Mike Hartline was asked to come in and start in his Sophomore season, a position that only Tim Couch has been in recently. He did so, had his struggles and finished a tough year by leading the team to a Bowl win. But this is a new season. Hartline looks more poised, is making throws we have never seen him make and now FINALLY has weapons at the receiver position to help him move the ball down the field. It remains to be seen if Hartline can be a top-level player at his position, but for now, he is playing well and helping the team win. We as fans should recognize that and try our best to not simply fit Hartline into our chosen narrative from last year (“not good enough to play in the SEC”) and instead judge him on his performance this year…which so far has been very good.