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A switch that's easy to defend

FAMU defensive back Troy Hart, a Tampa Jefferson grad, moved from receiver and has paid record-setting dividends.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 10, 2000


It was the turning point in Troy Hart's college career.

He got traded.

From offense to defense, that is.

Florida A&M receivers coach Jimmy Joe had a raw wideout in Hart who was struggling at the position. Defensive coordinator Clifton Moore had a defensive back in Trabian Turner who wasn't quite grasping his position, either.

Both were too talented not to play. But the question was, where would they play?

So they proposed a trade: Turner for Hart, straight up. All they needed was approval from the commissioner; that is, FAMU coach Billy Joe.

"I ordained it, and it was anointed," he said, "and they are actively performing well on the opposite sides of the ball."

Especially Hart, who has been a force at cornerback for the Rattlers (5-1), who dropped from No. 3 to No. 10 in the USA Today/ESPN Division I-AA poll after Saturday's 12-10 loss to No. 24 Grambling at the Circle City Classic in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.

A 5-foot-11, 165-pound redshirt junior, Hart already is making an impact in his first full season starting on defense.

The 21-year-old Tampa Jefferson product has returned two interceptions for touchdowns this season, a FAMU record, and forced a special teams fumble in Saturday's loss. He could challenge the school record of nine interceptions, set by Don Jefferson in 1984 and tied by William Carroll in 1990.

Hart used to split time at wideout and defensive back for the Rattlers before moving to defense. Playing one position has made him better at the other.

"When I played receiver, I could tell what the receiver wanted to do and how they wanted to do it," he said. "It's all about awareness on the field."

Joe used to be concerned about Hart's penchant for dropping a pass here and there. Now the coach said Hart's natural ability is being put to its best use, even if opponents don't realize it.

"They go after him because he's new, he's young, and he hasn't played there much," Joe said. "But he was a DB in high school, but what people fail to remember is that he runs the 40(-yard dash) in a bona fide 4.2.

"You hear the old adage, speed kills? It's not just on the highway."

Hart is best remembered in Hillsborough County for his heroics during the Donald Caldwell era at Jefferson. One of the area's top prep receivers and the son of former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Harold Hart, he was one of the Dragons' top weapons on offense and defense, and one of quarterback Caldwell's favorite targets. (Caldwell also made a position switch, to receiver at Florida, and goes by Reche).

The two hooked up in a 27-24 come-from-behind win over Hollywood South Broward to advance to the Class 5A semifinals in 1996. Hart ran a comeback route to grab a Caldwell touchdown pass and give the Dragons the win. Jefferson finished 12-2 that season, and missed its chance at the title game, losing to Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas the next week.

Hart signed with FAMU with the hopes of playing for Joe's Gulf Coast Offense. But then-Jefferson coach and current Plant coach Darlee Nelson said he always knew Hart's true calling was on defense, and that his size would be no detriment.

"They're fooled by his size, but when he gets on the football field, he doesn't care about size," Nelson said. "He plays 100 percent. He plays with the kind of reckless abandon that you need. When he played wide receiver for us, he was always great blocking downfield or delivering the crack-back block."

Because he is considered a neophyte on the defensive side, Hart said, opponents still think they can challenge him.

"Teams don't learn, I guess," he said. "They're trying to see if I'm a true corner. Really, to tell the truth, I'm really small, they probably think since they have tall receivers they can just throw the ball over me.

"So they'll just keep coming my way, and I'll just keep proving myself week in and week out."

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