Shane Hartzell compares the early stages of his long-awaited senior football season to a “story in a movie.”
If so, it’s best to imagine the film in black-and-white and set to melodramatic theme music.
Hartzell is an old-school player appearing in a vintage tale of a high school football star who battles back from injury to lead his team to new heights. He even plays the most iconic of throwback positions: fullback and linebacker.
“He’s a phenomenal football player, but he’s an even better leader,” Pennridge coach Cody Muller said in what could be the voice-over for the trailer.
The 6-foot, 225-pound Hartzell, a Villanova recruit, has led Pennridge to a 3-0 start and the No. 2 spot in the Inquirer’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Top 10.
Pennridge plays host to Suburban One League National Division foe Central Bucks South (2-1) Friday with the opportunity to tighten its grip on one of the four spots available for the abbreviated District 1 Class 6A tournament, which starts Nov. 6.
Hartzell has rushed 31 times for 268 yards (8.6-yard average), showing speed, strength and swivel. But he probably has made a bigger impact on the other side of the football as Pennridge’s first-string defense has not allowed a touchdown.
The Rams have outscored opponents, 107-14, including 72-0 over the last two weeks.
“This is what we expected,” Hartzell said. “People on the outside might not have expected this from us, but we expected is from ourselves. We knew what we were capable of.”
Pennridge was a bit below the radar entering this coronavirus-shortened season because the Rams were 5-6 in 2019. But there was a reason for that so-so showing. Hartzell played in just two-plus games before missing the rest of the year with an ankle injury.
“It was the first time I really had a serious injury,” Hartzell said. “It was really frustrating, feeling like I wasn’t able to help out my team.”
Muller said Hartzell, who underwent surgery to repair a tendon in his left ankle, spent most of 2019 serving as cheerleader and unofficial assistant coach.
“He’s all about the team,” Muller said. “He was there, every practice, every game.”
Hartzell is a rare four-year starter. He became a star as a sophomore, making 170 tackles and scoring a pair of defensive touchdowns. He was on his way to an even bigger season as a junior.
“He was a man on fire,” Muller said.
Hartzell has rekindled the flame as a senior. Like most 12th-graders, he spent the summer worried that the coronavirus would wipe out the fall season.
“We tried to stay optimistic that we would get this chance,” Hartzell said. "We have a lot of guys who have been together since we were with the Greenjackets [youth program in Perkasie].
“We just have that strong connection.”
Hartzell is a top student who plans to major in kinesiology at Villanova, with an eye toward a career in physical therapy. He said his season on the sideline had a side benefit, offering the opportunity to see the game from another perspective and better appreciate his ability to play.
“When something is taken away, you realize how much it means to you,” Hartzell said. “It makes you more grateful. You cherish the opportunity, and you don’t want to take it for granted.
”It kind of makes me have a chip on my shoulder because I want to play my best on every play."
Said Muller: “He’s kid who goes 100 mph every play, even when he’s dog tired.”
Being able to suit up again and take the field for the last time with old friends has been one thing for Hartzell.
But being front and center for a team with a chance to put together a special season and maybe hang a district title banner, that’s something else – a potential blockbuster of a script.
“Just coming back from an injury and not knowing if we were going to get to play and to have things go the way they’re going, it’s like a story in a movie,” Hartzell said.