All Hart: Former Barons’ star signs with the Packers

By on April 12, 2017
Manheim Central grad Derek Hart, shown here long snapping at James Madison University, was recently signed by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. Photo courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

Manheim Central grad Derek Hart, shown here long snapping at James Madison University, was recently signed by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. Photo courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

The phone call that Derek Hart was hoping for came on Monday, March 27.

On the other end of the line was Eliot Wolf, the Director of Football Operations for the Green Bay Packers.

Hart, a graduate of Manheim Central (2011) and James Madison University (2015), was getting his shot to play in the NFL as a long snapper.

“Obviously when I got the phone call, I was super excited,” said Hart, who ended up signing a three-year futures contract with the Packers just a few days later on Friday, March 31.

Having competed at combines in Mobile, Ala. and Phoenix, Ariz. in mid-January and mid-March, Hart (6-foot-4, 245) was trying to stay upbeat. He didn’t talk “in-depth” with any NFL teams at the combines, outside of shaking some hands and exchanging hellos.

Eventually, his hard work was rewarded.

“(My strategy) was just go there, participate, hopefully do well and it just turned into a waiting game, really,” the 22-year-old Hart said. “… You want to stay positive the whole time and expect a phone call. I had been preparing for months, and I had the mindset that if I got a phone call, I’d be ready to go out and immediately perform and work out for a team and hopefully get signed. That was the mindset.”

It took a leap of faith on his part.

Following his career at James Madison, where he played in 43 games — serving as the Dukes’ primary long snapper for three seasons — and earned his degree in Integrated Science and Technology in December, 2015, Hart accepted a job as a manufacturing engineer with Harley-Davidson in York.

In the back of his mind, though, he had questions. And nine months into his tenure at Harley, Hart came to the realization that he should have pursued the opportunity to play football.

“A big part of it was I was just kinda living with regret of not trying. That was definitely a big motivator to get back into it,” Hart said. “And I definitely missed it a lot too. You miss the camaraderie of being on a team and striving for an ultimate goal and all that. That was a big part of my life all the way from when I started playing sports, and then when you get done with sports, that leaves a pretty big gap.”

Wanting no regrets, Hart quit his job and began to focus strictly on chasing his dream. He went online and did some research. He started working out four to six hours a day, hitting the weights, running and snapping the football.

“For me,” Hart said, “I thought that’s what it would take and that was my regimen.”

Along the way, he found out to get in contact with, talked to the right people and learned how to qualify for the free agent combines

“At those combines, there’s scouts and everything and that’s really where you get noticed,” Hart said.

The Packers were one of those teams whose eye he caught. But even though Hart signed a three-year futures contract with the club, there is no guarantee that he will be wearing the forest green and gold colors when the season kicks off in September.

Currently, Hart is one of two long snappers signed with Green Bay. He still has to beat out Michigan State product Taybor Pepper for a roster spot.

“All teams keep only one long snapper on the 53-man roster,” Hart said. “You still have to compete for the spot, but the only way to get there is to have the opportunity … From everything I’ve seen and heard, I believe (Pepper and I) are both in the same boat. Neither of us have (NFL) experience.”

Next Monday, April 17, Hart will head to Green Bay, Wisc. to compete in team workouts, OTAs and mini-camp for roughly two months. The Packers’ training camp gets underway in late July.

“The goal is to definitely get into camp,” he said. “That’s where ultimately (the job) can be won.”

“It’s awesome (to see Derek get signed),” Barons’ coach Dave Hahn said. “It just brings a lot of excitement to Manheim and his former teammates are very happy for him, so it’s pretty neat … He was pretty determined to give it another shot. I’m glad he did. I wish him the best. I know he’s very good at long snapping and practices it a lot.”

During Hart’s career at James Madison, the Dukes’ scheme was for him was to snap the football and then release downfield. There was no blocking involved.

That will change in the NFL and Hart knows that his ticket will rest on how well he can keep foes away from the Packers’ punter.

“The way to make it in the NFL is you have to be able to block,” Hart said. “You have to be able to protect the punter. That’s the big thing … In the NFL, it’s a rule — the snapper has to stay in and block and be part of the protection. That’s what separates those who make it and those who don’t.”

To that end, Hart — who has added 45 pounds to his frame since playing for the Barons —has been spending countless hours on footwork drills.

“It’s got to be muscle memory,” Hart said, “and it’s got to be automatic.”

Certainly, the former Baron star would love nothing more than to make some memories on the hallowed turf of Lambeau Field. Hart considers himself fortunate to get an opportunity with one of the NFL’s most storied franchises.

“Oh my gosh, yeah,” he said. “There’s so much tradition and so much history up there. When you talk to somebody about the history of the NFL, I mean, one of the first things you’re going to talk about is the old Green Bay Packers, from the first days of the Super Bowl and Lombardi and all that stuff. It’s definitely super exciting.”

Quarterbacks Bart Starr and Brett Favre are part of that tradition and history. The current Packers have a future Hall of Famer under center in Aaron Rodgers, with whom Hart will be a teammate.

“It’s surreal for a second,” he said, “but then at the same time, you can’t look at it like that. You can’t go in there wide-eyed and stuff.”

Hart was a former QB himself growing up playing the game. Back in those days, he was a fan of the Colts. In particular, he rooted for Peyton Manning.

“When he went to the Broncos, I cheered for the Broncos,” Hart said. “That’s kinda where I left it. I was cheering for them the past couple years.

It’s not difficult to figure out where his allegiance stands now.

“I’m seeing green,” Hart said.


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