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Success has never tasted so sweet for Hartline

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Success has never tasted so sweet for Hartline

Post  BestdamnUKfanperiod on Wed Oct 20, 2010 10:02 pm

Success has never tasted so sweet for Hartline

By Eric Lindsey on October 20, 2010 3:52 PM | No TrackBacks
UK_UL_1stHalf_cw_02.JPGMike Hartline doesn't shake in the huddle like La'Rod King says he used to. The only shaking he does is on the ground as he kicks his legs and swings his arms after a game-winning touchdown pass to upset No. 10 South Carolina.

Hartline used to hear boos and listen to what people said when he entered the huddle. Now he ignores them, calls the play and listens for the cheers after it's over.

The senior quarterback used to show his immaturity, painting his teammates' shortfalls for his inability to succeed. Now he credits them for his success.

Oh, how things have changed for Mike Hartline. Once an embattled, controversial young man that maybe was forced into duty before he was ready, Hartline is now one of the biggest strengths on the team this year.

Far and away enjoying the best season of his career, Hartline is second in the Southeastern Conference in passing yards per game (225.9) with a completion percentage of 68.3 percent and a touchdown-to-interception split of 13 to three.

Has it been sweet redemption for Hartline, who, even after throwing for 762 yards and four touchdowns against Florida, Ole Miss and Auburn, had to put up with the same old criticism and quarterback questions?

You bet it has been.

"It's gratifying because you can share it with all these guys and you can see how hard they've worked, see how hard I've worked," Hartline said. "It is good to finally play so hard and get credit for it and just to be able to share it with everyone else."

Hartline won't take salvation in proving some of his harshest critics wrong, instead pointing to his desire to do well in his final season as his initial drive, but there's no denying that reaching the top of a rollercoaster career at UK has been a huge motivator in his success.

After what fans call his best game in a UK uniform - a career-high 349 passing yards and four touchdowns in the upset of South Carolina - Hartline hopes to have five more just like it.

"It makes you more humble, it makes you aware of all the crap that can't happen and it makes you not want to go back there," Hartline said. "You've worked as hard as you have to get where you are now and you want to keep it up and you want to continue that thing and you don't want to take a step back."

Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders sees a correlation in the success Hartline has experienced on the field with his maturity off it. With every external shot and blow Hartline weathers, it's built an unwavering, mentally-tough confidence that didn't exist two years ago.

"You can't withstand some of the things he's withstood off the field without being a pretty mentally tough guy," Sanders said. "You can't be physically tough until you're mentally tough. I think a lot of that goes along with his maturity."

A player that once called out his teammates for having the quarterback job swept from beneath his feet, Hartline now leads by example. Hartline credits the increased team depth and his wide receivers' athleticism for a lot of his success this year.

Against South Carolina, Hartline knowingly and willing stood in the pocket longer than he should have to deliver balls to his teammates. Really, the hits he took Saturday have been nothing like the shots he's taken off the field throughout his career.

"He's grown up a lot," head coach Joker Phillips said. "His body language never changes, even last week when he was getting hit in the mouth. It never really fazed him."

Truth be told, even when Kentucky was in the midst of the three-game losing streak, Hartline was playing pretty darn well outside a couple of costly interceptions.

"It's gratifying for me to know that he's been mentally tough enough and mature enough not to let all those things affect the way he went about his business," Sanders said. "Mike has played very well for us for a couple of years. It's nice for him to have the weapons around him to reap the benefits of playing as well as he's played."

Fans, especially the ones that have finally - finally! - gotten behind Hartline and recognized his success, would point to Hartline's physical shortcomings (inability to throw the deep ball, lack of a running threat) as holding him back.

But the biggest change in Hartline this year has been between the ears. The criticism, fair or unfair, no longer effects how Hartline reacts and plays.

"He has a short-term memory," King said. "He puts (the criticism) in the back of his head. I'm pretty sure he remembers it, but he deserves what he's going through now. ... I think he knows that the fans have his back now and he knows we have his back."

Hartline has been a part of so many quarterback competitions at UK - three in all - and dealt with more than his fair share of criticism that he's learned to shut out everything, good or bad.

"It's all part of the maturity process as a quarterback, on and off the field," Hartline said. "You can't worry about what you can't control. The only way to get better and to help your confidence and help everyone else in your whole situation is do what you can control, and that's just work hard. Hopefully, it will pay off, and it has."
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