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For Charlotte native and Panthers fan, playing QB was inevitable

Sam Hartman

MOBILE, Ala. — Sam Hartman doesn't remember when someone first put a football in his hand. It's simply always been a part of who he is.

"My first memories were fishing on Lake Norman and then throwing a football," he said. 

The Charlotte native has followed that passion all the way to the draft process. This weekend, Hartman will suit up for the final time in a college uniform, taking part in the 75th anniversary Reese's Senior Bowl (1 p.m. EST, NFL Network). The all-star week of practices and the game give NFL scouts an up-close look at the draft class's best prospects. The Davidson Day alum has established himself as one of those prospects, after a long college career at Wake Forest and then Notre Dame.

But that path started in the Queen City. In a way, it started in the stands of Bank of America Stadium.

"I grew up and my parents were PSL owners. We did it all," Hartman remembered this week while in Mobile. "(I) was a big Jake Delhomme, Steve Smith Sr. fan. I loved watching Jake put a deep ball down the field and, you know, I've always, you had a special place for Charlotte in my heart."

During Delhomme's seven-year career in Charlotte, he led 17 comebacks in the fourth quarter, a franchise record. The boy in the stands watching him, who would grow up to leave Wake Forest as the record holder for career passing attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns while also having the most touchdown passes (110) and second-most passing yards in conference history (12,967), also led seven fourth-quarterback comebacks himself; six at Wake Forest and one at Notre Dame.

Sam Hartman

During his time at Wake Forest, Hartman played twice at Bank of America Stadium. Both were losses with multiple interceptions.

"I played horribly. So that's a little bit of a bad luck charm, being in that stadium," Hartman joked of the memory.

But he has so many other memories inside the stadium, others that helped fan the fire of his desire to play quarterback and one day make it to the NFL.

"I just always remember Jake Delhomme dropping back and throwing the ball as high as possible and Steve Smith somehow always running under there and catching it," Hartman recalled this week.

The Panthers drafted their quarterback of the future last year in Bryce Young, and backup Andy Dalton remains under contract, meaning the chances of Hartman wearing Process Blue are slim. But as someone who grew up watching quarterbacks in the silver and blue, he's excited about what Young will accomplish in the coming years.

Sam Hartman

"I know Bryce pretty well and trained with his same trainers out in California and I've been a big fan of Bryce," he said. "The year was the year, but I'm super happy for him.

He's an unbelievable, unbelievable football player, and unbelievable man…he obviously has a lot of stuff that he can handle, and being a Heisman Trophy winner, being a first-round draft pick, I mean, all those different things and the pressure that was put on him and the way he handles himself on and off the field, it's cool to see and somebody I aspire to be like."

Time will tell what the future holds for Sam Hartman and whether or not his journey could come full circle back in Bank of America Stadium. For someone whose earliest memories are of Lake Norman and a football, however, this dream was seemingly always inevitable.

"It's just kind of been something I was born doing," Hartman shared, "I love doing it and I'm happy to be here doing it as well."

Take a look at photos from Dan Morgan and Dave Canales' introductory press conference.

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