#3 Leon Hart, TE/DE 1946-1949
Leon Hart was the strapping son of a Westinghouse Crane operator who lived in Pittsburgh’s Southeast suburb of Turtle Creek. He was one of Notre Dame’s first “middle class” recruits.
A Multi-Sport Star; A Prized Recruit
There was nothing Hart could not do, on the classroom or on any field of athletic endeavor. He was equally as adept at baseball and basketball as he was in football.
But Notre Dame drew a bead on him for football, and Leahy, fresh back from the Navy in the Pacific Theatre of operations, assigned assistant coach Edwin “Moose” Krause to recruit Leon Hart. Krause was shocked when he first picked up Hart for a recruiting visit when he got off the train in South Bend. Moose felt “mousy” as he often kidded that the massive 6’4” 245 pound Hart was the first recruit he
Ever “had to look up to.”
Leon Hart was an easy close for Krause and Leahy as he wanted to play football for the Fighting Irish and study engineering at Notre Dame.
Here’s Look At You Kid
Hart arrived in 1946 as a 17 year old and was surrounded by “battle-tested” veterans. This was not a cliché, as players like John Lujack, Ziggy Czarobski, Jim Martin, Emil “Six yard” Sitko and George Connor were veterans of the US Military during World War II. They had, indeed, been tested in battle.
But Leon Hart, the fresh-faced kid, fit right in and played a good bit.
November 9, 1946
Hart was on the field for the epic 0-0 tie versus Army at Yankee Stadium. It was the only time, EVER, in college football history, that four eventual Heisman Trophy winners appeared on a football field in the same game.
The foursome and the years they won were:
- Felix “Doc” Blanchard, Army ’45 (“Mr. Inside”)
- Glenn Davis. Army ’46 (“Mr. Outside”)
- Johnny Lujack, Notre Dame. ‘47
- Leon Hart, Notre Dame ‘49
Agent Zero of “Tight End U”
Hart was the first DNA strand of tight end U at Notre Dame. Guys like Mutscheler, Gmitter, Casper, #22 on our list, Ken MacAfee. Bavaro and dozens of others would follow but it was Hart who would become the only Tight End to ever win the award, who started it all. Simply, there was nothing he could not do.
Leon Hart Could Block
The Notre Dame rushing attack was devastating when Hart played. As Leahy had proved with Bertelli he was comfortable with passing the football, but Notre Dame pounded people on the ground when Hart was blocking at Tight End. Notre Dame rushed for over 305 yards per game during the four years that Hart played. They scored 33 points per game in that span, an unheard of total in the pre-spread days, and they were doing it against the nation’s toughest schedule.
Leon Hart Could Run
With backs like Sitko, Brennan and others, Leahy had a bevy of running back options but would deploy Hart as a runner when the situation required. Even though he ran between the tackles he averaged over 4 yards per carry in his Notre Dame career.
Leon Hart Could Catch the Ball – And Score
Though the Irish were run first in the Leahy dynasty from 1946-1949 Hart caught 44 passes for 644 yards and an astounding 12 Touchdowns. Leahy often waxed poetic about Hart’s ability to make yards after the catch as he dragged opponents’ tacklers with him.
Leon Hart The Defender
Hart would probably have made this list as a defender even if he had never taken a snap on offense. Notre Dame pitched 12 shutouts in the 38 games of the Hart era and allowed less than a touchdown a game. They outrushed opponents by over 170 yards per game in the four year span. Hart was a rock when he set the edge, a violent tackler and causer of fumbles.
Leon Hart Was an RKG
Hart was a proud graduate of Notre Dame’s vaunted School of Engineering and he topped it off, when he was still only 20, by serving as Student Body President.
Leon Hart, Heisman Trophy Winner
Hart romped to the award in ’49, and he was competing against SMU legend Doak Walker, who had won in ’48. Hart scooped up other major awards, including AP Athlete of the Year, beating out #42, Jack Roosevelt Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Hart was easily the first draft choice in the NFL draft, going to the Lions.
Leon Hart Never Lost a Game at Notre Dame
36-0-2. Football’s most famous tie, against Army, and one against USC in ’48. His teams outscored opponents 33-7
Leon Hart went on to win three NFL championships while he played for the Detroit Lions.
Middle class kid or not, Hart was as tough as nails. He was the Iron Man form the Iron City. He believed that two platoon football corrupted the college game and thought that real men played the full 60.
Unbeaten, Heisman Trophy winner, Iron Man, Student Body President. Leon Hart.