Undersized, not ready to play at the FBS level, a major redshirt candidate... those were the thoughts from virtually everyone regarding Georgia State Panthers freshman wide receiver Penny Hart. He can add one more to that list: Biletnikoff Award Watch List member.
At 5-9, 170 pounds and a true freshman, it would be hard to believe he would be in the mix at a deep wide receiver group for the Panthers. Not only has the Buford, Georgia native found a role in the offense, but he is the team leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.
One of the main reasons that Hart was not highly recruited, his only FBS offer was from Georgia State, was the uncertainty of where he would play at the college level. Some teams saw him as a running back, others at wide receiver, and some even saw him making a transition to the defensive side of the ball. Playing high school football just outside of Atlanta, 39 miles away, in Buford made the Panthers a great fit for Hart.
Hart was a two-time first team all-region honoree in high school, making the team as a running back during his junior season and as an athlete during his senior season. His best game of his career came in his final one with Hart rushing for nearly 400 yards and throwing for another 134 yards. That game got him much more attention, but he had already chosen to be a Panther by then.
As a two-star recruit, Hart had to know that his role would likely be limited during his first year on campus. Even so, he came into his college career looking to outwork and outplay those ahead of him in the depth chart. Quickly, it became evident that the true freshman would not be kept off of the field.
Hart found the end zone on his first official catch with Georgia State, a 53-yard touchdown pass that pulled the Panthers within 23-20 in a loss to Charlotte. Earning his first start in week two versus New Mexico State, Hart had his coming out party to the tune of 11 catches for 150 yards and two touchdowns. He followed that up with nine catches for 128 yards versus Pac-12 foe Oregon.
The true freshman has accumulated at least 40 yards receiving in every game this season. He ranks second in the Sun Belt in receptions (5.7 per game) and receiving yards (85.5 per game), behind only Dezmond Epps of Idaho. He is third in the Sun Belt with four receiving touchdowns. Among all freshmen (true and redshirt) in the nation, Hart ranks third in receptions and receiving yards and fourth in touchdowns.
He is one of only two true freshman to be named to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List. The other is Christian Kirk of Texas A&M. Teammate Donovan Harden is also on the watch list, being named in the preseason while Hart was added today.
In total, five Sun Belt receivers are on the watch list.