Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Updated: February 1, 2:20 PM ET
Kevin Hart to sign with D-II school
By Tom Friend
The same offensive lineman who staged a phony news conference four years ago to announce he was attending California -- even though Cal never recruited him -- will sign a legitimate letter of intent Wednesday with Division II Missouri Western State.
Kevin Hart, whose lie on Feb. 1, 2008, made national news, spent the past four years at Feather River College in Quincy, Calif., where this past season he was named a first-team All-California junior college lineman. He will have two years of eligibility remaining at Missouri Western, which finished 9-3 in 2011.
"I definitely think it's a happy ending," said Tom Simi, who brought Hart to Feather River College in 2008 before leaving the following year to become head coach at Army's West Point Prep. "We knew from the beginning this was a kid who had some problems and had some issues. Not just academically, but let's face it, probably emotionally. But he was still a good person, and that's what we believed in -- his potential.
"He screwed up and kind of paid a public humiliation price for it, and then he went underground and had to get a lot of things figured out. But clearly over time, he has. And here he is, man. It's pretty cool."
Hart, who is 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, played prep football in Nevada, with the dream of becoming a Division I player. After his junior season at Fernley High School, he received recruiting letters from Washington, Oregon and Nevada and even nicknamed himself "D-1." But because he had a 1.8 grade point average -- and thought it was of no use to take the SAT -- those schools stopped recruiting him. Ashamed to let anyone know, he assured his coaches and classmates that he was still a national recruit -- and continued his lie throughout his senior season of high school.
He then announced his college choice -- on national signing day in 2008 -- during a packed high school assembly, choosing Cal over Oregon. Asked afterward why he chose Cal, Hart answered: "Coach [Jeff] Tedford and I talked a lot, and the fact that the head coach did most of the recruiting of me kind of game me a real personal experience with that coach. And we had like a really good relationship."
But hours later, the hoax was uncovered. Fernley officials were told by Cal that Tedford had never met him or recruited him, and Hart, when confronted, told another lie, saying he'd been duped by a recruiting agent. But he later confessed, becoming a national pariah.
He planned to quit football until Feather River's Simi, along with athletic director Merle Trueblood, offered him a second chance at Feather River, a two-year institution in Northern California. Hart played sparingly as a freshman in 2008, then missed the entire 2009 season because of a knee injury. In 2010, he was academically ineligible to play, and served as a volunteer football assistant, helping coach the offensive line.
"Once he coached a little bit and saw what it was like, he learned the meaning of accountability," Trueblood said Tuesday. "Because nobody cut him not any slack on this staff. Not any slack. Make him accountable. He did all the dirty work so to speak, being the lowly volunteer. No slack was cut whatsoever. He did laundry. But that's what he needed. And then he got his grades right. Went to school and class. And then he came back."
This past season of 2011, Trueblood says Hart blossomed into "one of the best linemen we've ever had."
The athletic director also claims several Div. I school would have pursued Hart, but backed off when they heard he had only one year left of Div. I eligibility. But he has two years of eligibility at the Div. II level, and chose Missouri Western State over Concordia University-Saint Paul.
"I'm very thankful someone took a chance on me again," Hart said Tuesday evening. "I'm excited. I'm going there to get an education and to work hard on the field. I'm 22 years old now and in a different spot in my life. I'm more mature."
Missouri Western is expected to announce Hart's signing at a Wednesday press conference -- four years to the day after Hart's faux press conference in Fernley.
"I didn't realize it was exactly four years later," Hart said. "It'll be a good day for me. It'll be an emotional day. A lot of people say, 'Oh, but he didn't go Division I.' But there's still a lot to accomplish at Div. II, and I'm ready to get to work."
Trueblood said Hart broke the news to his teammates at Feather River's football banquet on Monday night -- and that the lineman became overcome with emotion.
"Kevin's persevered," Simi said, "and obviously is achieving a lot of success. I couldn't be happier for him, couldn't be prouder."
Tom Friend is a senior writer for ESPN.com.