Awkward reunion awaits Sam Hartman, Wake Forest

The team and former franchise quarterback are both enduring hard times as they meet again

Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman will face his old team when Wake Forest visits South Bend to face the Irish. (Michael Caterina / AP Photo)

This is not the way either side of the breakup wanted things to go.

Normally when a long-term relationship ends, everyone involved hopes that the next time their paths cross, they’ll be looking and doing great — lost weight, making money, happy and content in all facets of life.


“I was just on my way to dinner with my new significant other,” you’d say when you run into your ex. “Perhaps you’ve seen them on Instagram? They’re a well-known influencer. We’ve got a table at the hot new restaurant downtown to celebrate my promotion. So, how are you doing?”

When the 2023 schedule came out and Wake Forest and Sam Hartman saw that the Demon Deacons would be playing at Notre Dame on senior day for the Irish, both sides of football’s biggest offseason transfer envisioned something similar for their side of the reunion.

Instead, this will the football equivalent of throwing on sweatpants to head to the doctor to see if you have the flu, then bumping into your ex when you stop to get gas on the way.

Hartman decided to transfer for his final season of eligibility, leaving Wake as the school’s career and single-season record holder in completions, attempts, touchdowns, yardage and 300-yard games. With Hartman, Dave Clawson’s Demon Deacons offense became one of the most explosive in football. Wake was one of nine teams to score 1,000 points over the last two seasons combined, and the Deacs are the only team in the ACC to average 30 points a game over the last six years.

This year, however, they’ve missed Hartman dearly. Wake has averaged just 20.5 points per game, a drop of more than 16 from last year’s average and exactly half of the record-setting 2021 team’s output.

The Deacs have lost three straight and six of seven. They haven’t topped 21 points since Sept. 16 and managed just six in a loss to NC State last week.

“Right now, we’ve lost our way,” Clawson said after that game. “On offense, we’re broken. This isn’t anything like the offense that was put out there the last six years.

“If you look at the things we’re now doing — turning the ball over, personal fouls — that has not been the brand of Wake Forest football the last seven years. We were the team that didn’t do those things. … I’m embarrassed how poorly we played. I’m embarrassed at our lack of discipline. I’m embarrassed at the false starts on offense on our first three drives where we go to first-and-15. I’m embarrassed we turned the ball over three times, and I blame myself for that. We’ve lost our way, and there’s evidence that’s the case.”

This isn’t just a reunion with your ex when you aren’t feeling your best. This is bumping into them while having a full-throated shouting match with your new significant other in the Walmart parking lot.

With Wake’s woeful state, Hartman should be tenting his fingers and saying, “Excellent” as his date with the Deacs approaches. Instead, he’s fighting for his job.

The plan was for Hartman to use his final season to take the Irish back to the College Football Playoff and make a run at the Heisman Trophy while showcasing his skills for the NFL Draft in a pro-style offense instead of the Wake slow mesh.

Things started out well. Hartman led the Irish to 98 points in the first two games and 86 points in the next two. Since then, however, he’s struggled. The Irish have gone 3-3 since that explosive start, and the Irish have averaged just 30.7 points per game over that stretch.

There are plenty of factors that go into an offense’s scoring totals, but Hartman’s performance has clearly been a big part of the drop-off. Through four games, his passer rating was 217.8. In the six games since, it’s 120.4. His completion percentage has fallen from 71.1% to 58.3%, and after throwing 13 touchdowns with no interceptions through Week 4, he’s had five touchdowns with seven picks since.

With the Irish out of the playoff picture, there has been talk — getting louder by the week — that it may be time to look toward the future, and that means replacing the one-year rental at quarterback with someone who could use the reps to develop for next year.

ESPN just released its quarterback draft rankings and had Hartman at No. 14, slotted as a “late day three pick,” meaning the sixth or seventh round — not what he expected when he made the jump to the Irish.

“The biggest thing I think with Sam is that he’s still in the first year of a completely different system,” said Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman. “There’s a reason why he has so much success at Wake Forest because you’re in that same system for five years.”

The end of a relationship is never easy. It’s even harder when you’re the one who’s not in a good place. When Wake Forest and Sam Hartman make eye contact across the field on Saturday, both would be excused for longing for the good old days.