Mike Hartline has taken a lot of criticism during his career at Kentucky. He also has received a lot of pats on the back.
Prior to the season, Hartline, a fifth-year senior, had to fend off a challenge from Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski to regain his starting job. Hartline injured his knee against South Carolina and missed the final seven games of the regular season.
Although receiver Randall Cobb is probably the team’s most valuable offensive player, Hartline follows closely behind in second and hasn’t been a disappointment. Many coaches in the Southeastern Conference, including Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell, have taken note of Hartline’s performances this season.
“Mike Hartline is the most improved player, in my opinion, in the SEC,” he said following the Commodores’ 38-20 loss to Wildcats last weekend at Commonwealth Stadium. “He does a great job (and) hits his receivers.”
In the team’s win over Charleston Southern nearly two weeks ago, Hartline threw for 272 yards and a pair of touchdowns to become the fifth quarterback to throw for more than 5,000 yards in a career at Kentucky. Hartline joins an elusive club that features Tim Couch, Jared Lorenzen, Bill Ransdell and predecessor Andre Woodson.
The Kentucky quarterback is part of a senior class that has kept the team’s bowl streak alive. For the first time in school history, the Wildcats will make their fifth straight appearance in the postseason, setting a standard for future players to follow.
“It really sets the foundation for the guys younger than me to keep it going, to keep it alive and make them realize what we’re working toward,” he said.
Off the field, Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said Hartline’s roller-coaster ride throughout his collegiate career will pay off in the long run. Phillips has consistently indicated throughout the season that Hartline gave his first Kentucky team the best chance to succeed.
“The guy is a stand-up guy, he is,” the Kentucky coach said. “He has handled everything that's happened to him like a man. Mike's one of those guys that we talk about being ready to go out in the real world. Those guys are more than ready to handle all the things that come up in this world because of the things they've been through here in the last five years, and especially Mike Hartline.”
As for Kentucky’s performances this season, Hartline admitted that he’s not happy with the team’s 6-5 record, but isn’t looking back as the Wildcats prepare for a Thanksgiving weekend contest against Tennessee in Knoxville. The contest will be Hartline’s final regular-season game in a Kentucky uniform.
“We are what we are,” he said. “If ask anybody on our team, we weren’t expecting to be this way this late in the season and we probably expected more wins, but we can’t worry about that . We can’t be having the ‘what ifs’ and think about where we could be. We’ve got to control what we can control.”
A win over the Volunteers would add to Hartline’s legacy.
Story by Keith Taylor. Photo by Victoria Graff.
More Football news: Cobb puts Tennessee ahead of future plans.