BUNKER HILL, W.Va. — The best way to define Blake Hartman is by a career, not a single season.
Yet, an accumulation of single seasons have brought forth an amazing career for the Musselman senior running back.
Indeed, discussion of Blake Hartman covers four years, rather than a single year.
Every year in high school.
He’s been doing it for Musselman since he joined the Class AAA program as a freshman. He’s never let up.
Hartman ran for more than 1,136 yards as a freshman. He produced 1,305 rushing as a sophomore, 2,109 as a junior and 1,696 as a senior in an abbreviated season.
Four years worth of more than 1,000 yards.
It adds up to 6,246 yards for his career.
His final year was his best, as he averaged more than 200 yards per game as Applemen won seven of eight games before their season ended in the state semifinals because of a bad color on the COVID-19 map.
Hartman’s nearly 1,700 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground allowed Hartman to be named as the Curt Warner Award winner as top running back in the state and, more significantly, helped him run away as the overwhelming winner of the Kennedy Award as the top high school player in the state. Both awards are being named today.
Hartman received 15 first-place votes in the Kennedy race, while runner-up Gage Michael of Farimont Senior was next-best with two. Three others received one vote for first.
“It’s going to be a good Christmas present,” Musselman coach Brian Thomas said.
Hartman joins the late Todd Mosby as Musselman’s second winner of the Kennedy Award. Mosby claim the honor in 1999.
“It would be great to follow his legacy,” Hartman said of Mosby. “Bringing the Kennedy back to Musselman (will) be pretty cool.
“(It’s) great for the community and the school.”
After second-place Michael, a quarterback, the rest of the top five is made up of Oak Glen’s Hunter Patterson, South Charleston’s Trey Dunn and Spring Mills’ Keon Padmore-Johnson.
Ethan Payne, the 2019 Kennedy winner from Poca, shared sixth place with Jakob Caudill of Cabell Midland.
“Obviously, your senior year is going to stick out,” Hartman said. “Not only because of what I did, but because of COVID.
“There was a lot of uncertainly every week. You’re constantly looking at the map: if you don’t beat the map, you can’t beat your opponent. I just tried to focus on games and practice and not all of the distractions.”
Thomas doubts that what Hartman accomplished over his career can be repeated, even for players in the lower divisions of play, which, based on school enrollment, would give some players an opportunity to join the lineup earlier in their careers. The Applemen are a Triple-A squad.
“I don’t think the the Musselman career rushing record will ever be broken,” Thomas said.
As for his career, beside topping 6,200 rushing yards, Hartman eclipsed 11,000 all-purpose yards.
And now Hartman is on to Lehigh, one of 17 Division I schools to offer a scholarship, and hoping to be just as productive after he signed his letter of intent a week ago.
He is expected to play running back for the Mountain Hawks.
It was apparent from the beginning that No. 6 – a number he carried from the youth leagues, and one he kept because it seemed unusual for a running back – would turn out to be as special as Hartman has been.
He earned second-team all-state honors that first season. He was a first-team all-state running back the next three seasons, including his senior year when he was named the captain of the Class AAA offense.
“It’s very rare to see a player come in as a freshman and impact games,” Thomas said. “I don’t know we’ll see that done again.”
When Hartman was named all-state second team as a freshman, he shared carries with teammate Jacob Northcraft, whose brother, Ethan, is an all-state offensive lineman who has been blocking for Hartman for four seasons.
Hartman also broke Jacob Northcraft’s career rushing record for the Applemen.
“The thing that amazes me is that he’s been a different player all four years,” Thomas said. “As a freshman, he was the small guy and a slot or edge guy. His sophomore year, he had an oustanding year as a receiver. The past two years, he transformed his body and became kind of a fullback.”
Really, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Hartman puts you in mind of NFL running back star Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans. It’s the power through congestion at the line and the acceleration afterward, often with either of them ending the play in the end zone.
Thomas saw that as Musselman went on the road — one of six of its seven regular-season games — and played Class AA champion Fairmont Senior.
The Applemen led Fairmont by a touchdown entering the fourth quarter when Thomas told his assistant coaches that they wanted to control the ball and wind down the clock.
Hartman ruined that idea when he took the football 60 yards for a touchdown on a simple dive play into the line as the Applemen eventually claimed a 42-21 victory.
“He takes it to the house,” Thomas said. “He had that ability that, on every single play, we might score on that play.”
Martinsburg found out as Hartman ran for 269 yards and five touchdowns in Musselman’s only loss that actually happened on the field.
“He had his best games against quality teams,” Thomas said.
It was the start of an impressive season for the senior, who was being recruited for different positions depending on the school – anything from linebacker and defensive back to wide receiver and, of course, running back.
Lehigh wants Hartman as a running back.
“That’s why I focused on the offensive side of the ball this season,” Hartman said.
Still, he put in enough time on defense at linebacker this past season to sack quarterbacks five times in Musselman’s eight games.
Hartman hopes to see action as a freshman at Lehigh and wouldn’t mind returning kicks or punts right off the bat for the Mountain Hawks.
He had three special teams returns for touchdowns this season, including a punt return for a score after University went three and out to open its playoff game against the Applemen. Hartman wound up with seven touchdowns in a 64-26 romp that day.
“It’s amazing,” Thomas said. “It’s amazing as a coach that you sit back and wonder, ‘How did he do that?’”
In whatever role Hartman has been cast, he has come through.
He sometimes has lined up in the shotgun formation as a wildcat runner and other times a legitimate quarterback.
For example, in a 49-7 win at Hurricane, one of six games the Applemen played on the road during their seven-game regular season, Hartman ran for 261 yards and three touchdowns, returned a kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown and threw a touchdown pass.
“If you follow Blake Hartman (on social media) and click on highlights,” Thomas said, “you might say it’s impressive what he does.”
He’s been doing it for four seasons.
“I set my goals high in high school,” Hartman said. “I will try to set them high in college.”
He has one lament, though: Never reaching the state Class AAA championship game.
This was the year Musselman, 23 seniors strong and with 17 veteran starters, felt like it had a prime opportunity, but the coronavirus pandemic got in the way.
“Of all the awards, though, I would’ve liked to win a state championship,” Hartman said.
Because of Musselman’s inability to play in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the state playoffs, Hartman was denied a chance to break the career touchdown record of 118 he shares with Josh Culbertson of Nitro. Hartman did establish the state all-time scoring record with 748 points.
“He had that ability on every snap that we might score on that play,” Thomas said.
For Hartman, it was quite a season and a phenomenal career.
He will be honored during the West Virginia Sports Writers Association’s 74th Victory Awards Dinner on May 23 at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.
Rick Kozlowski is a sports writer for The Journal and provided this story on behalf of the WVSWA.