Pro Day notes: Sam Hartman throwing passes to Michael Mayer? Oh, what might have been

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Wearing a sleeveless blue T-shirt with “STUD” emblazoned across the front, Sam Hartman effortlessly whipped passes to Michael Mayer for several tantalizing minutes at Friday’s Pro Day.

As NFL scouts scribbled notes and Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman looked on with his assistants, an unspoken sense of “What if?” filled the indoor practice facility. As in: Oh, what might have been had the ACC’s career passing leader (Hartman) and the most electric tight end in program history (Mayer) had a chance to team up for real with the Irish.

Instead, the projected first-round draft pick on April 27 ran routes on air for Hartman, the Wake Forest grad transfer, after just two brief throwing sessions earlier in the week. Despite the unfamiliarity, it didn’t take much squinting to see the lost potential of that hypothetical combination.

Former Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer and Wake Forest grad transfer quarterback Sam Hartman walk to another area for drills Friday, March 24, 2023, at Notre Dame Pro Day activities in South Bend.

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“Throwing a couple times, sometimes it’s not easy to have the best connection,” said Mayer, who turned pro in December after three record-setting seasons and a consensus All-America selection. “But Sam is a great quarterback. He’s going to do great things here.”

Hartman, who arrived with 110 career touchdown passes and hopes of improving his 2024 draft stock with a sixth and final college season this fall, made the most of Friday’s cameo. "STUD," by the way, is an acronym for Smart-Tough-Unselfish-Dependable.

“Oh, he’s throwing it nice, man,” former Notre Dame safety Brandon Joseph said. “They were all on the money. Those two early ones (for near interceptions) I tried to get too fancy. I’m really excited to see what he does here next year. Y’all got a good one. I wish I was here for him.”

Joseph, the Northwestern transfer who renounced two years of remaining eligibility by turning pro in January, chatted a bit with Hartman after returning to campus this week.

Former Notre Dame safety Brandon Joseph takes part in the 40-yard dash Friday, March 24, 2023, at Notre Dame Pro Day activities in South Bend.

“Met him the other day,” Joseph said. “(The conversation) was pretty short. I’ll be here lingering over the next few weeks. I’ll make sure he knows what’s going on.”

When it was mentioned that Hartman will play this fall at age 24, sometimes facing cornerbacks as young as 18, Joseph gave a knowing grin.

“And he’s going to tear ‘em up, too,” he said.

'Just like how (Ian) Book was'

Jafar Armstrong, who spent the past two seasons at Illinois (2021) and FCS-level Western Illinois (2022) after transferring from Notre Dame, also ran pass routes for Hartman and came away impressed.

“I’ve heard a lot of pub about him,” Armstrong said. “He’s been a top-3, top-5 ranked quarterback, and I definitely see why. He’s a veteran quarterback. We didn’t have any drops. All the balls were spot on. From what I’ve seen, he’ll be somebody who can get Notre Dame to where they’re trying to get. I like him a lot.”

Former Notre Dame running back Jafar Armstrong catches a pass during drills Friday, March 24, 2023, at Notre Dame Pro Day activities in South Bend.

Hartman has come a long way since Sept. 22, 2018, when as a freshman making his fourth career start he was sacked three times and held to 110 passing yards in a 56-27 loss to Notre Dame.

Armstrong, who rushed for 98 yards and two touchdowns that afternoon in Winston-Salem, N.C., was surprised to hear about that connection.

“Did he play that game?” Armstrong said. “I didn’t even realize that. I think we beat them pretty bad. I don’t remember much from him, but I know for us we had a really good day for sure.”

That start also marked career win No. 2 for Ian Book on his way to a 30-5 mark that made him Notre Dame’s all-time winningest quarterback. Book replaced Brandon Wimbush during the week after a 3-0 start for the Irish.

Armstrong said he sees similarities between Book and Hartman.

“I think (Hartman) shows a lot of poise,” Armstrong said. “You could tell he’s a vet because, even in terms of how we’d line up for certain routes, it’s quick, it’s direct — just like how Book was. Book was precise and he was very smart. He knew where to throw the ball.”

Hartman, who went 27-18 as the Demon Deacons’ starter and threw touchdown passes to 18 different receivers, has Armstrong’s attention.

“I think he’s going to be a good guy for us for sure,” Armstrong said, “and I’ll be watching him.”

Isaiah Foskey (mostly) sits out

Former Notre Dame defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey holds a blocking pad for Chris Smith Friday, March 24, 2023, at Notre Dame Pro Day activities in South Bend.

Isaiah Foskey, projected for the top two rounds after an epic showing three weeks earlier at the NFL Scouting Combine, skipped everything but position drills at Pro Day.

“I was just confident in my numbers, what I did at the combine,” said Foskey, a consensus All-American and Notre Dame’s career sacks leader in the modern era. “It just shows how athletic I am. The 40, I could have run a lot faster, but everything else matched up to what I was expecting.”

Friday’s standouts among 14 participants included defensive tackle Chris Smith, the Harvard grad transfer who cranked out 37 repetitions in the 225-pound bench press; cornerback TaRiq Bracy, who led the group with a 38 ½-inch vertical and a time of 4.54 seconds in the 40-yard dash; and defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola, whose 80-inch wingspan trailed only Foskey’s 82 1/8.  

Kicker Blake Grupe also made a 61-yard field goal and linebacker Bo Bauer, recovering well from October ACL surgery, showed off his value-added skill as a long snapper.

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.