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Hart of a champion

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Aug 9, 2005.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    <strong>August 9, 2005</strong>
    Source: <a href="http://www.chargers.com/news/headline_detail.cfm?news_key=2228">Chargers.com</a>

    <img src="http://bolttalk.com/images/hart01.jpg" class="right" alt="Clinton Hart" title="Clinton Hart"/>When sports fans think of Rocky Balboa, they think of a champion, an underdog who battled through adversity and rose to the top. Considering Chargers free safety Clinton Hart's long road to success, it's fitting that his hero is the Italian Stallion.

    "When I first started my journey, I picked up the "Rocky" movies and started watching them," said Hart. "That's my total thing. No one believed in Rocky Balboa, but he put the gloves back on and went to work. He chipped away and made it to the top."

    Hart's road has been a long, arduous journey. His father and older brother were both incarcerated when he was a teenager, and Hart passed up several football scholarship offers to stay close to home and keep an eye on his mother and younger brother.

    Hart didn't even play college football. He opted for the diamond and donned a baseball uniform for Central Florida Community College.

    "I decided to play baseball there for two years and then transfer to play college football, but it didn't happen that way," said Hart. "Then I thought I would get drafted in baseball, and that didn't happen either."

    In 2000, Hart called an Arena League coach who previously recruited him out of South Sumter High School. Hart asked to try out for his AFL2 team, the Tallahassee Thunder. What happened next was a journey no one expected, except Hart.

    "I had a plan," he said. "I wanted to play AFL2 for one year, then get picked up by the AFL, get sent over to Europe, and get to the NFL, all in four years. Sure enough, I did it. Someone's looking over me."

    The steps that eventually led him to the NFL weren't easy. Hart made just $162 per week playing for the Thunder and endured 20 hour bus rides throughout the season. He continued to chip away at the odds though, just like his idol Rocky.

    Just one year later, Hart was named AFL Rookie of the Year as a member of the Tampa Bay Storm. His performance caught the attention of NFL scouts, and in 2002, Hart received a contract offer from the Philadelphia Eagles. As Hart planned, he was sent to NFL Europe where he spent the 2002 season with the Rhein Fire and Amsterdam Admirals before returning home to attend training camp with the Eagles.

    Eastern Pennsylvania was an ironic destination for Hart.

    "Rocky Balboa is from Philly, so when I got there, it was a little weird because that had been my movie," he laughed. "The local news did a little piece on me running through the Italian market beating on meat and running up the steps, the whole Rocky thing. It was something I'll never forget. I still have the tape."

    Hart had to work his way up through the Eagles' practice squad in 2002 prior to earning an official roster spot the following season.

    "Every situation I've been in hasn't been the greatest, but I make the best out of it, and it seems like the best ends up falling in my lap sometimes," Hart said. "In Philly I was backing up Pro Bowler Brian Dawkins and I knew I wouldn't start, but during the first game of the season he broke his foot. I played nine games and was blessed with the opportunity to make a name for myself."

    During those nine games, Hart tallied 61 tackles (39 solo), seven pass deflections, and one sack for a seven yard loss. Dawkins returned healthy for the 2004 season, so Philadelphia waived Hart in early September. Just one day later, San Diego came calling.

    "Coming here and being around LaDainian (Tomlinson) and Drew (Brees) and all these big name guys, it's a pleasure to be a part of something like this," he stated. "I take this opportunity for what it's worth. I cherish this. I give it my all on the field and let the chips fall where they may."

    Hart has spent the 2005 training camp embattled in a fight for the starting spot at free safety. The mix includes returning starter Jerry Wilson and newly acquired free agent Bhawoh Jue. Wilson is entering his 10th NFL season, while Jue, a third-round pick by Green Bay in 2001, is entering his fifth.

    "The competition is going to make us all better," said Hart. "The best man wins, and I'm looking forward to continuing the battle. It's intense out there, and things get stirred up, but it will only make us better as a unit and help improve the defense."

    But despite his unfaltering focus on the football field, Hart's priority is still his family.

    "Football will eventually end for me, but my family will always be there. I try to make sure that I take care of home and that everyone back home is doing well, regardless of what's happening here."

    That includes setting a good example for his ten-year-old brother Keanu, who insists on wearing Hart's number 42 on his Pop Warner team, and the neighborhood kids who clamor to his side when he comes home during the offseason.

    "When I come home, I have a big responsibility outside of football, so it's important for them to see me doing the right thing," Hart said. "Being an example comes with the job, and I take full responsibility and make sure I lead them in the right direction."

    Hart has a tattoo emblazoned on the inside of his left forearm that reads "Psalm 23," a Biblical passage about being fearless when caught in one of life's many valleys. His mother tells him to read the passage every time she calls, so he keeps the reminder closer than most and rubs the tattoo six times for his family members while he's on the field.

    His valley today is fighting for that starting job, as well as pushing his fellow teammates to reach that peak.

    "I'm expecting big things out of us this year," Hart summed up. "Our secondary is growing, and mentally we're coming together. I think we can go as far as we want to go this year. It's all about us- what we decide."

    Hart has made it through the valley and is now living his dream. He hopes to deliver a one-two punch on opposing offenses this season, one that Rocky Balboa would be proud of.

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