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Hartlaub eyes rebound from ACL tear

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It took an unexpected phone call to get Drew Hartlaub feeling like himself again.

It was last September, and the South Western junior running back and Division I prospect had just torn his ACL in the Mustangs' opening game against Gettysburg. Hartlaub was heartbroken, until South Western coach Damian Poalucci handed him a phone.

Penn State head coach James Franklin was on the other line.

"He told me the (Penn State staff) was thinking about me and that I was going to be alright," Hartlaub said. "It was kind of a surprise for Coach Franklin, the week of a big game, to take the time to talk to me. The week before I was really down and didn't talk much. I got that call, and along with my support system behind me it really helped."

From that point on, Hartlaub shook off the disappointment and dedicated himself to coming back stronger than before. Now with his senior year about to start, the Mustangs tailback is ready to prove he's still one of top players in the YAIAA.

Having already received scholarship offers from Army and Albany, Hartlaub has big expectations to live up to this year. But the senior believes he's in position to be better than he was as a sophomore, when he piled up over 1,300 all-purpose yards and scored 14 touchdowns.

"I'm bouncing off the walls thinking about putting the pads back on," Hartlaub said. "It's a dream come true to have some of these (college) teams contact me, but I've got a lot of making up to do."

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Hartlaub has plenty of confidence, but it took a lot of work for him to recover from the injury, both physically and mentally. Following surgery in early October, the running back went through physical therapy before starting workouts with a trainer four days a week in the spring.

The goal was to not just get back to where he was before, but to become bigger, faster and stronger. A successful track season coupled with time at college football camps this summer helped him overcome the psychological hurdles he faced, too.

Now, Hartlaub said he is feeling better than ever. Extra weight training has helped him bulk up from 165 to 185 pounds, and he's now running the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds, according to him and head coach Damian Poalucci.

"Missing last year gave me the motivation to get my body healthy and right, because I love football and watching my teammates play when I couldn't was hard," Hartlaub said. "It's been a grind (training) but I love doing it. Not being able to do it last season makes me want to do it more now."

The senior has plenty of personal goals this season, aside from receiving more Division I offers. He wants to average seven yards per carry, 10 yards per catch and score 20 touchdowns.

He wants to win, too. The Mustangs reached the district playoffs last season but came one win short of the Division I title, and Hartlaub wants to accomplish both this season.

That's why he's already made a concerted effort to be more vocal around his teammates this summer. The Mustangs graduated a number of key players from last season's team, and Hartlaub is trying to fill the leadership void.

"Usually I've just been a guy that leads by example, but this year I need to step up and be more vocal," he said. "I didn't have to do that before because we had guys like (quarterback) Brock Geiman and (defensive lineman) Skylar Bowman. It's a new role for me and I like it."

His teammates and coaches like what they've seen from him this summer. The Mustangs ran for more than 2,200 yards as a team last season, but those in the program think moving the chains will be easier with Hartlaub back.

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"Drew’s a very quiet kid who doesn’t say a lot, but when he does, he speaks loudly, and sometimes it's more powerful that way,” Poalucci said. “He puts in a lot of time in the weight room with us but also puts in time outside to get better."

Added senior offensive tackle Bubba Carbaugh: "The guy runs a 4.3 (40-yard dash), he can get the edge, run between the tackles. Last year we ran the ball without Drew very well, but this year I feel we’ll be a lot better.”

Hartlaub certainly does have a lot to live up to this year, but he said he's not letting the pressure get to him. After missing an entire season, he just wants to get back on the field.

And if all goes well, maybe he'll get some more phone calls from college coaches. This time for more positive reasons.

"A lot of coaches need to see me play," Hartlaub said. "It’s definitely real motivating to get back. I'm really excited to be back and I have a lot to prove."

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