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Even though he was a standout high school player, Hartline readily admits the thought of returning one day as an NFL player didn’t cross his mind back then. And that, he says, is what is making the Dolphins’ appearance in the Hall of Fame Game Sunday and his homecoming so special.
“Never,” Hartline said. “It’s probably why it’s so cool, that I never once thought that I could be back here as an NFL player in a different uniform.”
Like most NFL veterans, Hartline doesn’t necessarily relish the idea of his team playing five preseason games this summer, instead of the usual four, but the location of the extra game helps make up for it.
“Honestly, I’m a professional now and I understood it was another 10 days to two weeks and I really understand there’s a lot more work going in,” Hartline said. “But I also had a bunch of text messages from people that knew before me. I was aware of the situation before I actually saw it on TV. It was exciting, but also it was, man, that’s five preseason games, that’s a chance for injuries, you’ve got to be smart. But the first reaction was pretty exciting.
“I would not have enjoyed (a fifth preseason game somewhere else). Canton makes it more tolerable, I would say.”
Hartline says he anticipates having 50 to 60 family members and friends attend the game on Sunday.
While he had many memorable moments at Fawcett Stadium, which no longer is the site for GlenOak High home games, Hartline’s final game there ended on a disappointing note.
It was the first game of Hartline’s senior season in 2004 when he went back to field a punt in the first half. A teammate fell on his leg, causing a fracture that ended Hartline’s high school career.
After recovering from the injury, Hartline went on to have a productive career at Ohio State, which led to him being selected by the Dolphins in the fourth round of the 2009 draft.
“It was kind of tough,” Hartline said of the injury. “Obviously I’m never going to forget that. It kind of shaped me into who I am today. It kept me hungry. It kept me really on the ultimate goal, that sort of thing. I’ve thought about it, it was a freak accident. It’s kind of hard to forget.”
Hartline was born in Canton and grew up a short distance from Fawcett Stadium.
As a young football fan, he made it a point to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame on more than one occasion.
“All the time,” he said. “We had the chance a couple of times. I want to say a couple of times in college. Once you get to college, with camp starting sometimes it can run over into the Hall of Fame and not having time to be up there. I’m pretty sure in high school I did it a couple of times. Definitely the enshrinements; those are pretty cool. And I’ve been inside the Hall of Fame multiple times.”
Hartline said he always enjoyed looking at the Super Bowl rings on display. He obviously would love nothing better than to get one of his own someday.
The Dolphins’ quest for that ultimate goal this season begins with the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a game that figures to be memorable for Hartline regardless of how much action, if any, he winds up seeing.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “I think I’m going to be in the same locker room I always dressed in as a high school kid, so it’ll be cool. A lot of the family that can’t get to a lot of games will be there and it’s going to be a great environment.
“It’ll be a pretty surreal moment I’m sure.”