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NCAA sanctions lead Virginia OL to Happy Valley

October 5, 2012
By Philip Cmor ( , The Altoona Mirror

When the NCAA handed down its sanctions on the Penn State football program, several recruits closed the door on being Nittany Lions.

When they did, however, it opened the door for some other young players who wanted to be.

Like Tanner Hartman.

"I always had something for Penn State. I went up there for camp, and I had a great feeling," Hartman said. "It just happened that they kind of had the guys for their class as my position."

That changed in the last couple of months. Five-star offensive tackle Dorian Johnson decommitted and eliminated the Lions after the NCAA's ruling. That freed up a spot for an offensive lineman in Penn State's 2013 recruiting class, and the coaches extended an offer to Hartman, who had made a pledge to Maryland when it appeared Penn State wasn't going to have room for him.

Hartman, who plays for former Nittany Lion reserve quarterback Frank Rocco at prep power Liberty Christian Academy in Lynchburg, Va. and has plenty of Pennsylvania ties himself, took Penn State up on its offer last week, switching his commitment and becoming the 11th member of its recruiting class. And Hartman is not looking back.

"This is a 100 percent commitment. This is where I wanted to go at the beginning of the summer. That's why I made the decision," Hartman said.

As a junior, Hartman was a first-team all-Virginia Independent Conference selection blocking from the left tackle spot on an offense that averaged more than 300 yards and 36 points. The Bulldogs finished 11-0 against a schedule that included Hargrave Military Academy and Fork Union -- quarterbacked by blue-chip Nittany Lion recruit Christian Hackenberg.

Liberty Christian is off to a 5-1 start this season following a 42-7 win over Perry in Pittsburgh last Friday that actually lowered the Bulldogs' scoring average to 47.7 points per game.

"He has been a three-year starter. He actually started out as a tight end," said Rocco, whose father was head coach at Altoona High about 30 years ago. "He's got good range. He's long, and he's got athleticism. His upside is still there. He's still developing."

Rocco cautioned that Hartman is "a work in progress" but also said Hartman was the type of kid who'd do anything he could to realize his potential.

"He's improved immensely in the three years he's been on our varsity team. He's a great kid," said Rocco, a former assistant coach at Liberty University whose son is the quarterback at Virginia.

In addition to Penn State and Maryland, Temple, Liberty and Richmond offered Hartman scholarships, while Virginia Tech, Boston College and West Virginia showed interest without offering.

Right now, Hartman is a little on the small side for a Big Ten offensive tackle, checking in at almost 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, although he runs a 4.9-second 40-yard dash. However, the odds that he'll get bigger seem good -- his brother, Toles, is 6-6 and played basketball for UNC-Asheville, while his father, Tom, was a hulking 6-7, 300-pound offensive lineman at Virginia Tech who got a tryout with the Washington Redskins in the mid-1980s. Tom Hartman was 6-4, 235 coming out of high school.

The younger Hartman, who's already grown an inch and added 10 pounds since summer camps, began playing football when he was in first grade, but he said his dad never pushed him into pursuing football.

"Obviously, it helps that the sport I always wanted to play is the sport he did, but he never wanted to put pressure on me," Hartman said, noting his father actually coached him in Little League baseball. "He helps me out and watches film with me and points things out."

Tom Hartman went to Lebanon Catholic, and the Hartmans still have family in-state although they live outside Roanoke, where Tanner can pursue his hunting and fishing interests.

"Growing up, I was always a [Virginia] Tech fan, but my grandpa was a big Penn State fan," Tanner Hartman said. "I've got lots of family [in Pennsylvania]. I've made lots of trips to that Hershey/Lebanon/Annville area."

He'll be making his first trip to a Penn State game, though, this weekend, to take in the Lions' homecoming and watch them take on Northwestern.

"I fell in love when I was up there at camp. And the passion Coach [Bill] O'Brien showed really intrigued me," Hartman said. "I'm just thankful for the opportunity I have at Penn State. I want to make the most of it."

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