Nov. 18, 2004
SportsLine.com wire reports

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Some athletes thrive off the energy their fans provide during home games.

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Mike Hart is just the opposite.

The freshman Michigan running back knows he'll be the enemy Saturday at Ohio State -- yet he's looking forward to the experience.

"I love being booed. To me, there's nothing better than that," Hart said. "I'd rather get booed. It gives me a lot more incentive."

Listed at 5-feet-9 and 194 pounds -- though he might not be that tall or heavy -- Hart is used to being doubted, jeered and taunted.

"I just like going into situations that are against you," he said. "It's probably because of my little size."

If Hart can do what he has done for much of the year for No. 7 Michigan, the Buckeyes' rowdy fans might be silenced.

Hart averages a Big Ten-best 131.1 yards rushing -- ninth in the country -- despite carrying the ball just eight times in the first two games and not starting until the fifth game of the season.

Hart also leads the conference with 150.5 all-purpose yards per game.

"He came in and surprised a lot of people," Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "He's a great running back. He's not a huge guy, but he breaks a lot of tackles.

"It's a pretty big challenge to stop a guy like that because if a couple of defensive guys are out of place, he'll find the mistake and hit the crease and make you pay."

Hart's 1,311 yards rank 13th in Michigan history for a season rushing total. If he matches his average Saturday, he'll move into seventh place.

He ran for 151 yards in Michigan's 42-20 win over Northwestern last week for his school-record fifth straight 150-yard game.

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Against the Wildcats, he also moved past Ohio State's Maurice Clarett (1,237 yards) into third place on the conference list for single-season rushing by a freshman. Just Wisconsin's Ron Dayne (2,109) and Minnesota's Darrell Thompson (1,376) ran for more yards than Hart as Big Ten freshmen.

Hawk compared Hart to Clarett.

"Both can see the hole and know when to cut it back," Hawk said.

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr knew he would have to replace Chris Perry, now an NFL rookie in Cincinnati, but he wasn't sure the recruit from upstate New York could handle the task.

"This is a guy that came out of a very small high school, and a lot of people questioned whether his competition was strong enough," Carr said. "I can't say to you that I thought he would be leading the Big Ten in rushing this late in the season, because I didn't. But I didn't have any question that he was the kind of kid that was going to be successful here."

Hart has piled up impressive statistics without the benefit of 50- or 70-yard runs.

His 34-yard TD last week was his longest run for Michigan, and it was similar to many of his 33 gains of at least 10 yards. He started up the middle, but ended up bouncing to a hole to the right.

"He has the ability to make the play when the play isn't there," tight end Tim Massaquoi said. "Certain players have that. He sees something that everybody else doesn't."

Hart also doesn't seem to have a big head despite the buzz he's created locally and the publicity he's had nationally.

"I respect him for that," senior defensive end Patrick Massey said. "He is levelheaded, and his ego hasn't gotten out of hand."