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Hart's Renaissance
December, 2012 - Issue #98
During the 1990s and into the early part of the 2000s, Hart football was the program that the Santa Clarita Valley was identified with. Between 1995 and 2003, the Indians won six CIF championships and had a series of superstars who went onto play at higher levels.

But 2004 was the first chink in the armor. An astronomical 65-game Foothill League winning streak came to an end at the hands of Valencia High. It was the beginning of a period that saw Hart football sink to a place it hadn't seen in recent memory. Sure, there were the 2005 and 2007 CIF championship game appearances and superstars still came through the program. Yet the Indians saw things once thought to be unfathomable - a losing season in 2008, missing the playoffs in 2010 and witnessing other programs like Canyon, Valencia and Saugus surpass the once-impenetrable program.

"I was a ballboy for Hart since the second grade. Since then, a lot of people were talking about Hart until the seventh grade. Then a bunch of kids were talking about going to private schools," says Hart junior running back Connor Wingenroth. "We still loved Hart football, but we didn't think the teams were bonding. Some players had to play positions they wouldn't normally play because they didn't have enough kids, because kids were going to private schools. But we knew when we were going to Hart, we had a solid group of kids coming in."

Call 2012 and beyond the Hart renaissance. After years of trying to get things right, the Indians are looking promising for the future. Hart football has an array of young, talented players who could make the Indians CIF championship game regulars for years to come. Players like the dynamic Wingenroth, who as a sophomore in 2011 was the first player of his class standing to become the Hart starting quarterback in the 23-year leadership of head coach Mike Herrington. Then this year, Wingenroth moved to running back, where he made a strong argument for the Foothill League's Player of the Year, to make room for sophomore Brady White, a polished and poised young quarterback. On top of that, wide receivers like Trent Irwin, Wes Fitzpatrick and Davis Koppenhaver, linemen and defensive players and successful teams at the junior varsity and freshman level position Hart as the team to beat into the future.

The constant, though, has always been one of the state's most respected coaches - Herrington. Herrington alludes to some reasons as to what sent Hart football into unfamiliar territory in recent years and how Hart is returning to form now.

"Our senior class has had to go through some tough times, but we knew they had some talent in certain areas like offensive and defensive line. Our junior class was undefeated as freshmen and we brought a lot of those guys up last year. And the few sophomores we have, they were undefeated last year. So we knew we had some talent coming up," Herrington said. "And the good thing for us is we've had great camaraderie, great continuity and those kids get along. Sometimes you bring in sophomores and they're stars, the seniors get jealous. We haven't had any of that. The team gets along so well there's no fighting that can destroy a team."

In the past, that happened. The infighting, a drop in Hart's enrollment, talented kids choosing private schools over Hart and a drop in talent affected the Indians. The infusion of new talent has made Hart, though, once again a promising program. The Indians started the season as the number-one ranked team in the CIF-SS Northern Division and remained there for most of 2012. Yet Hart has its critics.

Last December, the program was sanctioned for violating a CIF-SS undue influence rule where a group of players were viewed as having followed their youth coaches to Hart High to play for them, despite the players not living in Hart's boundary.

"There's always critics," Herrington says. "Every school in the Santa Clarita Valley has had that situation. There was no recruiting involved. It was just kids wanting to come to the program to play for our program."
Hart has withstood that criticism and moved on. The present is good for the Indians and the future is bright. Ask its players. They can feel it.

"I knew Hart was always a great program, that they won CIF championships, but had kind of a drop-off. But I knew the coaches there could still produce the outcome," White says. "Obviously the teams in previous years weren't the most successful, but it inspired me to work even harder, and so when I did get my chance I could be the best I could be and hopefully get Hart back to the CIF [championship] days."
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