It's all starting to fall into place for Notre Dame football quarterback Sam Hartman

SOUTH BEND — Elevating a sixth-year quarterback in his first year on campus into a key role within the hierarchy of the Notre Dame football team wasn’t going to be a snap-your-fingers situation.
It didn’t matter how many yards or touchdowns he’d thrown for at his previous place, it was going to take time for 24-year-old Sam Hartman to feel at home.
It took the back half of winter, when Hartman arrived as a mid-year enrollee ready to embark on a new challenge in his final year of college at a new school and all that entails.
It took an entire spring, as Hartman sorted through who was who in the football facility and where was where on a campus he still is discovering.
It took most of summer, when he got more comfortable within the offense of first-year coordinator Gerad Parker and the demands of new quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli and continued to build the same-page levels of trust and belief and understanding with his receivers.
It took fall camp, when a true quarterback battle was supposed to surface before his main competition — the only competition — decided post-spring that he would fit better elsewhere and wound up at Alabama.
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The Hartman we see now is different than the Hartman we saw in spring. The sample size remains small — the media can glean only so many snippets through our practice-viewing window — but it’s there.
Like during pre-practice stretching, when Hartman, just another guy in the line in spring, now is at the front of every stretch drill, every position drill, every one-on-one drill against the Irish defense. Like Saturday when he led an offensive unit celebration after beating cornerback Cam Hart (he’s rather good) on his throw to wide receiver Jayden Thomas in the corner of the end zone.
Like later in the day when Hartman sat at a long high-top table on the second floor of the Irish Athletics Center and was nearly finished with a 10-minute media session when he looked up at the flat-screen television mounted on the wall and reacted to what was on it.
Seemingly all camp, the television has shown last year’s 35-14 beatdown of Clemson in an endless loop. Over and over rolled the moments of that magical night at Notre Dame Stadium. Each time reporters gathered to interview players, it was on. Reporters noticed. Players noticed.
Is it on when no one’s around at 3 a.m.? Is it the only big win of late for this program?
Hartman was mid-answer to a question when he saw a big play pop on the screen.
“We just blocked a punt,” he said. “That’s sweet. Sorry, football’s on.”
We.
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Hartman saw none of that Clemson-Notre Dame game live. While the Irish were doing what they were doing, Wake Forest was in Raleigh, North Carolina losing to North Carolina State, 30-21. Hartman threw for 397 yards and two touchdowns but was intercepted three times. No way is he watching the highlight loop from that night at Carter-Finely Stadium.
Back then, Notre Dame was them. Now, with Hartman less than three weeks away from his first start for the Irish, anything Notre Dame related is “we.” As it should be. As it must be.
Hartman's now a true Notre Dame guy
It’s a small word but using it the way he did was a big step for Hartman, still coming to terms with life as the Notre Dame starting quarterback. He got a taste of it in the spring, but it was hard to understand/retain anything then. He came to better understand the power of the place during summer with school (a quieter campus gave Hartman more time to explore) and travel.
Everywhere he went, it seemed the interlocking ND logo was everywhere. It probably was like that in Hartman’s previous football life, but he never gave it a second thought. Now when he sees it, he thinks, hey, that’s my school. My football program. My life.
“It’s a special place,” Hartman said. “They say (being the Notre Dame quarterback) doesn’t hit you until you’re out of it, but you can feel it.”
Hartman felt it this summer. When Tyler Buchner bounced only hours after the spring game, Hartman had no choice but to become more of a leader, more of a voice, more of a main guy. He did on every level, to the point that at the end of the offseason, when team awards were given out for standing out in training, Hartman earned one of those honors.
It was graduation day, the time when he crossed over from being the former Wake Forest quarterback to being the Notre Dame quarterback.
“You could tell just by the reaction of the crowd, all in the auditorium,” Guidugli said. “They said Sam’s name (and) the reaction of his teammates told you that he has won the locker room.”
Winning the locker room was critical, but everyone knows he’ll be judged by winning games. Big games. Road games. Games where he may struggle but must figure it out in the closing minutes. Games where he’s got to be the best player on the field from the first drive forward. Games where his sixth-year experience shows.
That first start is closing quickly, but it’s only one of 12. The next week, another start, another challenge. Then another, and another. That comes with the position he plays and the school he plays for. Hartman’s more settled now than when he arrived, but that doesn’t mean he’s comfortable.
Staying on edge helps him keep one.
“It’s just one of those things where you’re constantly growing, constantly learning,” Hartman said. “I don’t think you ever get settled. I think I’m settled in, but I think I’m always learning would be a better way to say it.”
Well said.
Everything is different, but everything’s starting to feel the same. Every day in the Gug. Every day in Parker’s playbook. Every day spent (and he spends a lot of them) in Guidugli’s office with his fellow quarterbacks talking football, talking life. It’s not as second nature as it was for him at Wake Forest, but nothing ever will be.
“You almost know what tree’s going to fall in the forest before it fell just because I’d been there so many times,” Hartman said. “That was a pretty good play on Wake Forest. I did that on purpose. That was sweet.”
It was, and it also underscored Hartman’s comfort level with who he is and where he’s at. He’s not trotting out that line when he first got here, or when we first talked with him in March. Maybe not at the end of spring. Now, it’s different. He’s different. There’s a season starting soon. It will all be new and maybe a little intimidating, but soon, it will be time for Hartman to go and do what he’s done.
Complete passes. Throw touchdowns. Be a leader. Win games. Play football and whatever else that comes with doing it where he’s going to do it.
His new normal feels normal.
“There’s a lot of nerves, a lot of excitement building for what’s to come,” Hartman said.
Settle in. This guy’s got this.

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