Rashad Hart has a smile that lights up an entire football field. This charismatic young athlete plays for the West Hernando Cougars varsity division. Hart, 14, has competed for West Hernando for the past four seasons, advancing through the system far quicker than most his age. Still in middle school at Powell in Brooksville, Hart's athletic abilities are unquestionable. He runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash and can throw a ball more than 65 yards.
He already looks like a man, even though he hasn't entered high school yet.
He "has more natural talent than any kid I've ever had," West Hernando football director Bob McFarland said. "If he gets motivated and works for it, there will be nobody that can touch this kid."
At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Hart fits the mold of the modern quarterback. Athletic and quick-footed signal callers — not immobile, statuesque players — are the players finding success. The left-handed Hart fits that model.
Even with those traits, playing varsity-level football in the Pasco Police Athletic League requires a level of maturity most middle school athletes do not possess.
Among his supporters, Hart credits the presence of his older cousin Jeremy Williams, a student at Central High, for his comfort level on the field. Williams, a linebacker and running back for the Cougars, has decided to forego playing for his school in favor of West Hernando.
"From the first year we played together (three seasons ago), you could see how good he was," Williams said. "Even when was he was younger, he was much bigger and much faster than everyone else."
Coaches are happy to have the duo on the field together for the undefeated Cougars. Last weekend at Trinity, the quarterback led a 56-0 victory over the Mustangs.
Cougars coach Mike Zink believes his squad is the favorite to win the PPAL title.
"Rashad can't be stopped," Zink said. "He and Jeremy are like sons to me. Everyone around here calls them the Zink boys."
A Brooksville native, Hart has his life pointed in the right direction, thanks to football and the help of Zink. Hart is a regular visitor at the Zink household, having fun like he is part of the family.
He also plays football at Powell, where the Panther staff plans on using him in the same way the Cougars have. Hart, who prefers playing tailback to quarterback, plays both positions well but his size and arm strength have coaches anticipating his future.
That talent has Hart aiming toward an eventual college scholarship, an idea that isn't far off despite him just being an eighth-grader.
His simple yet exuberant attitude keeps it all in perspective for his teammates and coaches. That simple approach has helped him find success for the game.
"I love the running," Hart said, "but it's all so much fun."
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