“You’re starting to look more like a quarterback.”
Recently, that’s what some Grand Island Northwest coaches have joked about at times with the run-first Sam Hartman. As a sophomore in 2019, Hartman rushed for 265 yards and one touchdown while throwing for 204 yards and one score in a backup role for the Vikings while Rans Sanders got the start at quarterback.
Sanders helped lead Northwest to a 9-2 record, but the Vikings were knocked out of the Class B playoffs in the quarterfinals by Omaha Roncalli Catholic.
With Sanders graduated last fall, the 6-foot, 190-pound dual-threat Hartman got the keys to head coach Kevin Stein’s offense. As QB1, Hartman racked up 2,826 total yards and 29 touchdowns. He passed for 1,840 yards and 21 touchdowns while rushing for 986 yards and eight scores. Northwest again made the B quarterfinals, but bowed out with a three-point loss to Hastings.
Considering the large senior class that the Vikings lost after the 2019 season, it was a success to make it as far as they did, Hartman said.
“Coming into the season, everyone kind of had their doubts about how we’d be,” he said. “We had lost a lot of guys, especially after that second-round loss to Roncalli. I think we had 20-some seniors who were starters, so we had a clean slate.”
Hartman and his team competed at the Grand Island Northwest jamboree earlier this week, which had over 10 teams from across the state. It gave him an opportunity to work on his passing, which is something he’s been focused on improving this offseason.
Hartman said he even stopped playing baseball — a sport he’s been competing in his entire life — to help his throwing motion.
“I’m starting to throw the football more like a quarterback instead of a shortstop,” Hartman said. “But all my fundamentals, I’m working on getting those better and becoming more of a passer to show coaches I can do both (run and pass). I still think it (baseball) has helped me out a lot, because with my arm strength from throwing all the time, I can throw more sidearm if I need to, get different arm slots.”
And Hartman can really run and pass.
He threw for over 200 yards in six games last fall, including a season-high 294 (on an efficient 20-of-28) in a win over Aurora on Oct. 16. Hartman also led the team in rushing and cracked 100 yards in four outings last season, with a season-best 177 coming in a 30-19 win over Omaha Skutt Catholic in the first round of the playoffs.
Hartman said he tries to model his game after former Northwest quarterbacks Christian Ellsworth, Carter Terry and Sanders. But Hartman brings his own specialty to the position. Like Sanders, he’s very active with his legs, which presents another aspect for a defense to account for.
“I just want to use my God-given abilities to try to help my team win every Friday night,” Hartman said.
While Hartman is working to be the best passer he can be, the Northwest coaching staff understands it has a great athlete taking the snaps and wants to use him in the run game.
Enter the H-back.
In order to play a physical brand of power football, spread offenses need to run the quarterback at times. To help with that, the Vikings will be utilizing an H-back in their offense this season.
“It’s high school football and you still have to be able to run the ball, so Sam is truly more of a tailback than a quarterback,” Stein said. “He’s a tailback that can throw the ball, so it (H-back) adds a sixth lineman who is also a receiver. We have a group of players who truly fit that H-back role — they’re not really linemen, they’re not really receivers, they’re not really running backs.
“So it’s a combination of playing more power football and we’ve got the tools to do it, so we might as well go with it.”
Said Hartman: “We’re starting to bring it into more of a quarterback-run offense. We’ll still pass out of it, but it (H-back) helps us have another body up front to run the ball a little more effectively.”
Hartman also starts at safety — he was fourth on the team in tackles with 60 and picked off one pass — which he says helps him learn more about being a quarterback. He’s trying to hone in on the details, and he realizes he may get away with little mistakes now, but not at the next level.
“When you’re playing safety, the quarterback always tries to look you off, so I can kind of pick up other things quarterbacks are doing,” Hartman said, “like if they don’t turn their shoulders all the way, or if they have their head turned one way and they turn it back. A lot of high school quarterbacks aren’t that advanced, but at the next level they definitely are.”
Hartman wants to compete at the next level. Before the jamboree, he was at a camp at Central Missouri. He’s planning on going to camps at South Dakota State and North Dakota State, too.
Ellsworth, a former quarterback at the University of Northern Iowa and a current Kansas State graduate assistant, asked if Hartman was interested in attending a camp in Manhattan, Kansas.
“That should be fun, linking back up with him,” Hartman said of Ellsworth. “He used to give me quarterback lessons in middle school.”