* This article appears in a recent issue of Blue White Illustrated. To order a subscription, CLICK HERE.
In college, he'll probably be responsible for protecting Christian Hackenberg, keeping the quarterback upright and his jersey clean.
But on Nov. 16, under the lights of Liberty University's football field, college couldn't have seemed further away. On that night, Hackenberg was just another obstacle standing between Tanner Hartman and Liberty Christian Academy's second consecutive Virginia state title. If that meant Hartman had to rough up his future teammate, then so be it.
Article Continues Below
So that's what he did. Hartman, a two-way lineman who was recruited by Penn State to play on the offensive line, helped lead his Bulldogs to the championship with a 35-14 victory over Fork Union Military Academy. He also helped sack Hackenberg on three occasions.
But even with the VISFA Division I title on the line, maybe he did take it a little easy on his future teammate. "The official was joking that they were the softest sacks he's ever had," Hartman said. "It was pretty funny."
Nonetheless, he got the win. It's a bragging right that Hartman will carry to campus this summer. A two-star recruit, according to Rivals.com, Hartman had a very different experience from that of the five-star QB.
When Hackenberg committed to the Lions in February of his junior year, Hartman was still hunting for major scholarship offers. He entered the camp circuit the following summer with offers from Temple, Richmond and Liberty, and he hoped to receive a few more.
Penn State's camp was one of the first he attended. While the coaches liked what they saw, they already had a verbal commitment from a four-star offensive tackle, so Hartman didn't receive an offer. A couple weeks later, however, after camping at Maryland, the Terrapins came through. "Maryland said they were only taking one more offensive lineman and there were three or four guys with offers," Hartman recalled. "So I didn't want to miss out on that." In July, he committed to the Terps.
Not long after he made his decision, Penn State was slapped with its NCAA sanctions. A number of players renounced their commitments, including that four-star offensive tackle (who later became a five-star prospect), and suddenly a scholarship was available for an offensive lineman.
"Penn State apparently was having to go back and look at some kids who they looked at in the past but didn't pull the trigger on the first time around," said LCA head coach Frank Rocco, a former Nittany Lion. "So when they came back around and got involved with Tanner, unfortunately... he had to renege on a commitment, which isn't always a fun thing."
But it's what Hartman felt he had to do. "I just had a good feeling about it," he said. In late September Hartman switched his commitment to the Nittany Lions, becoming the first of Rocco's players to sign with the coach's alma mater.
"So I'm pretty happy," Rocco said.
While Rocco quarterbacked a couple of Penn State teams in the the late 1970s and early '80s, Hartman's father, Tom, played at Virginia Tech beginning in '81. Hartman was a 6-foot-4, 240-pound lineman when he arrived in Blacksburg, but he weighed close to 300 pounds by the time he left.
Tom and Tanner have a similar physical build, so while size was initially a concern for some Division I programs - Tanner played his senior year at 6-4, 250 - neither Rocco nor Tanner thinks size will be an issue at Penn State. Hartman weighed 270 pounds in March and said he hopes to be approaching 280 when he arrives on campus in June.
"I've been lifting a lot and running a lot, so it's been good weight," Hartman said. "And I don't feel like I've lost any speed, or the ability to move, and I feel a bit more flexible. I wish I could have played the season at this size."
He will start his college career on the offensive line, and Rocco said he wouldn't be surprised if Hartman were to receive tryouts at center, guard and tackle before finding a permanent position. "Just because he played tackle in high school doesn't necessarily mean he'll play tackle at college," Rocco said. "He's athletic enough to play anywhere inside."
As he showed in the state championship game vs. Hackenberg, he can also be an effective defensive lineman. Hartman, who was voted a team captain as a senior, is willing to play defensive line at Penn State, too. With the Lions forced to slash the number of scholarship athletes on their roster, Rocco said that Hartman's versatility was one of the main reasons he was so appealing to Penn State after the sanctions.
"No. 1, he's unselfish, but No. 2, he is an athletic big man who has a lot of different possibilities," Rocco said. "And that makes you more marketable in the long run."