Around this time of year, when National Signing Day inundates us with stories of young athletes overcoming adversity to earn life-changing opportunities, it’s easy to grow a little numb to just how much goes into a signee’s story — how much sacrifice led to the scholarship, and how much that scholarship can mean to a player’s future.
One more signing story may seem unlikely to tug at the proverbial heartstrings, but Arthur Hart’s signing with UNC-Charlotte is different.
Hart is a senior at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf, where he kicked for Model’s football team the past few seasons. He doesn’t see own his story as one about overcoming adversity, though.
“I think being deaf helps to my advantage on the football field,” Hart wrote in an email. “Football is such a physical game there really isn’t a lot of time to talk anyways. Using my eyes for communication actually gives me better vision on the field than hearing players.”
Hart takes great pride in overcoming those odds faced by any high school player — deaf or not — in his quest to earn a Division I scholarship.
Before his junior year at Model, Hart began to commit himself to kicking and punting. He attended kicking camps and countless training sessions, trying to hone a craft not often talked about in the madness of recruiting rumors.
The extra work paid off, and Hart saw his kicking improved. He wanted college coaches to see it, too. So his father sent 300 emails to 300 different schools around the country, trying to earn a look or two, hoping his name might stick with them. As he attended college camps, interest increased, and by the summer before his senior year, those 300 emails and countless hours of training yielded interest from James Madison, Stetson, Montana State, and UNC-Charlotte.
Hart said he was most interested in UNC-Charlotte, and found his heart set on joining the 49ers. In August he received a phone call from the 49ers coaching staff offering him a scholarship, and he accepted on the spot.
With his scholarship secured, Hart turned in a monster senior season, and not just kicking; he did it all for the Eagles.
“When I first met him, he introduced himself as a punter and kicker. I was like, ‘Oh, that big kid plays punter and kicker?'” Model Coach Jimmy Gardner wrote in an email. “I laughed, then I evaluated him in other positions, and was amazed with his athleticism and versatility… His attitude and work ethic are outstanding. His passion for football is genuine and he always studies film, looking for ways to improve his game. These qualities are what make him a Division I caliber football player.”
Gardner started Hart at tight end this year, then moved him to running back, where he had 18 carries for 146 yards and two touchdowns in one memorable performance. Gardner then shifted Hart to quarterback. The 6-4, 185-pounder led his team in touchdowns (8), while also providing the team’s extra points and field goals. He also featured on the defensive line for Model, turning in 12 tackles and 4.5 sacks in one game.
While Model (2-8) struggled, Hart was a reliable force in all aspects of the game, and even hit the longest field goal in school history, a 45-yarder against eventual CAFC conference champions Riverdale Baptist.
“The moment I saw that ball go through the goal posts is one I’ll never forget,” Hart wrote. “That moment was really important because I always wanted to leave something behind before leaving to UNC-Charlotte.”
While Hart doesn’t see being deaf as having any negative effect on his football career, he does understand that it made his journey to college football more improbable, if nothing else. So he knows he’s left behind a lot more than a record long field goal.
“To me heading to a D1 program is something out of a storybook,” Hart wrote. “Growing up as a deaf child, I always dreamed of being the first of something so that other kids would be able to look up to me and be inspired.”
According to Gardner, Hart has left precisely that type of legacy behind.
“He is a backstage leader,” Gardner wrote. “He often gave pep talks to the team in the locker room but leading by example whenever he is out on the field. He has been a great role model to his teammates.”
But if he’s inspired his teammates to beat the odds, it’s not just those created by being deaf in a sport that’s so predominantly hearing. For Hart, the odds against joining an elite college football program are adversity enough.
“Up until my official visit this past January, when I saw what it is like to be a football player at such a high level… there is nothing else like it,” Hart wrote. “I just couldn’t believe I had accomplished this until I saw it for myself.”
“Knowing that I’m going to a great university that’s surrounded with great people is just amazing. I’ve been dreaming to play Division I football since as long as I can remember.”
Check out video of Arthur Hart’s signing ceremony, courtesy of Model. Captions are available.