The fastest man around (over 40 yards)? How Drew Hartlaub blew up Penn State Pro Day
STATE COLLEGE − Call it the biggest moment of Drew Hartlaub's football life.
He stepped to the starting line on the artificial grass in cavernous Holuba Hall. NFL scouts watched from portable bleachers. Coaches, teammates, media members stared him down, waiting.
No uniform, no helmet, no football.
The South Western grad crouched to run 40 yards that could mean all the difference in his world. Something he's been training for weeks. It's what helped earn him his niche as a Nittany Lion star on special teams. What helped get him his college scholarship.
The thing that eventually made his childhood dreams come true, playing for Penn State.
The fastest guy on the team, one of the fastest in the entire nation through 40 yards, was ready to perform his specialty during Thursday's Penn State Pro Day workouts.
Hartlaub was ready and yet, admittedly, all nerves.
He crouched, set and took off. He barely touched the ground, it seemed.
A record-setting 40-yard time?
He flew to the finish where head coach James Franklin came running to greet him. "Fast! Very, very fast!"
And yet Hartlaub was told, quickly enough, that he may have leaned or moved a bit forward as he was beginning that sensational run. That's not allowed. He thought his stunning 4.24-second time might be disqualified.
Hours later, though, it not only appeared to hold − it was even better.
Penn State officially credited Hartlaub at 4.22 seconds over 40 yards. That best personal time also could be considered one of the best anywhere. It would tie the fastest 40-yard time ever at the NFL Combine, set by Washington receiver John Ross in 2017.
Penn State questions:Penn State football's most critical month: 5 questions heading into spring practice
Hartlaub locked in even more on his second running attempt of the day, maybe played it a bit safer at the start. He still clocked a 4.30 finish, which still would have been the fastest of the day. That earned him hugs, hi-fives and fist-bumps from one teammate, coach and staff member after another.
“Nerves," he said about it all, smiling after it was over. "It felt like I was running a track meet almost. I had a lot of nerves, that’s probably why I rolled into the start a little bit."
Certainly, he seemed to do what he had to. He showed the kind of dramatic speed that will turn NFL heads, that could earn him a free agent opportunity in May despite never seeing the field as a position player over five years in college. He showed even more with a 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump, second on the team to cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields.
No matter that Hartlaub pulled out of the receiving drills on Thursday after feeling a slight twinge in his leg on his second run. He said he just wanted to be cautious.
He was still a headliner, in an off-beat, intriguing kind of way. This, the 175-pound, wavy-haired college grad who looks more fitting for some kind of office job.
"Speed is something the NFL definitely covets, right?" said Brad Armstrong, Hartlaub's New Jersey-based agent.
“What we hope to do is have (NFL teams) use his skills on special teams and also, perhaps, in the slot (as a receiver). Because the game's predicated on speed. Teach him route trees, see if he has the hands."
Did Hartlaub even know how good he was?
“It’s kind of surreal. When I came here five years ago as a walk-on and to think now I’m performing for NFL teams, and some of them are interested in me, is kind of crazy. I never would have anticipated that."
He interviewed with the New England Patriots after Pro Day workouts. He has upcoming workouts scheduled with the Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants and possibly the Philadelphia Eagles.
That may increase now.
Penn State punter and kicker Jordan Stout told The Athletic's Audrey Snyder this: When teams at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine asked him which under-the-radar teammate he'd bring with him, he pushed for Hartlaub.
"I probably told 29 teams you need to get Drew. He's gonna be a 'gunner' and he's gonna be really good at it."
No one may be prouder of Thursday's effort than Hartlaub's longtime roommate. Journey Brown was the state-record track and field star when he came to Penn State to play running back. He was growing into a national star when a health issue abruptly ended his football career before the 2020 season.
He trained Hartlaub three days a week on running and receiving leading up to Pro Day.
“He almost made me cry today," Brown said. "I don’t cry for abilities and people performing well, but he made me very proud today. I think he made everybody very proud.
“He proves people wrong. He's been doing it for a while now."
Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the York Daily Record and USA Today Network. Contact him email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @YDRPennState.