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Where Are They Now

Where Are They Now: Ben Hartsock

Catch Up with the Former Tight End

Tight End Ben Hartsock #84 of the New York Jets scores his first Touchdown against the Tennessee Titans when the Jets host the Titans on September 27, 2009 at the Meadowlands, East Rutherford, New Jersey.  Both teams wore their throwback uniforms, with the Jets sporting the Navy jerseys and gold pants of the New York Titans.  Jets beat the Tennessee Titans, 24-17.  (Photo by Al Pereira/New York Jets).05

A vagabond lifestyle is not uncommon in the NFL.

Ben Hartsock, who joined the Jets shortly before the 2009 regular season began, lived that life.

New York was the tight end's fourth team in the six years since he was drafted by Indianapolis out of Ohio State. Two seasons with the Colts was followed by two seasons with the Tennessee Titans, which was followed by one season with the Atlanta Falcons.

"Everybody's NFL experiences are very broad and I think there's a lot more guys like me that just live kind of that day-to-day, week-to-week NFL experience. I was cut by the Falcons on one day and the next day I'm standing in the Meadowlands and introducing myself to Rex Ryan," Hartsock said.

"It was the day of the last preseason game, and I showed up and walked out on the field during pregame warmups. I remember meeting him and he said, 'We're excited to have you. We're going to run the football and we need somebody that can help in the run game like you.'

"It was exciting to be a part of that, but there was another tight end, an undrafted guy, that thought that he was going to make the team. So me getting picked up ultimately indicated he wasn't. And so that's just kind of the hard, harsh realities of the NFL life."

Primarily a blocking tight end, Hartsock did something during his third game as a Jet that he hadn't done in his 58 previous games – catch a touchdown pass.

"We put the play in that week and it was a possibility (that I'd be the target)," Hartsock said. "And then you hear it called in the huddle, so I was excited to hopefully get my first touchdown.

"The funniest thing is, I was so new to the team that there wasn't a lot of close relationships with guys on the team yet. I kind of remember thinking everybody was celebrating because we were all excited for the team, but I think a lot of the guys were like. 'Wait, what's that guy's name?'"

"That guy" who caught the 2-yard toss from rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, helped the Jets beat Tennessee, 24-17, and start the season at 3-0.

The victory over the Titans was followed by six more, and the Jets finished with a 9-7 record and made the playoffs as a Wild Card team. Knocking off Cincinnati and San Diego in the post-season led to meeting Indianapolis in the AFC Championship Game.

The Jets finished the following season one game away from the Super Bowl, as well. An 11-5 record again earned them a Wild Card spot. And then wins over Indianapolis and New England put them in the AFC Championship Game, where they fell to Pittsburgh.

"Those teams had tremendous veteran leadership. There were guys in the late part of their careers that were just spectacular leaders. LaDainian Tomlinson in the second year and Thomas Jones in the first year. D'Brickashaw Ferguson didn't speak a lot, but was just a guy that worked hard day in and day out, and led by a tremendous example," Hartsock said.

"Brandon Moore and (Nick) Mangold, those guys, they were pro's pros. Alan Faneca. All of those guys, they really set the tone on the offensive side of the ball. And then on the defensive side, Shaun Ellis and Bart Scott, those guys were grizzled, salty veterans that knew what it took to compete at a high level.

"When I think of those Jet teams, and in my career, those were the two most successful years I had, two AFC Championship Games, I'm just reminded of the fun and the excitement and the enjoyment of playing with a bunch of consummate professionals at the NFL level."

Hartsock not only enjoyed playing with his teammates in New York, he also enjoyed playing in front of the Jets faithful who packed Giants Stadium and then the New Meadowlands Stadium in 2010.

"The New York Jets fan experience was unlike any other stop that I had in the NFL. They were simultaneously, the most demanding and expectant. But they were also the most passionate and supportive at the same time," Hartsock said.

"Their fans represent kind of the archetype of the New York, New Jersey personality. They say what they think. They don't mince words. And if you if you can handle that demeanor, they're the most loyal and wonderful people you've ever met."

Following his two seasons with the Jets, Hartsock went on to conclude his 10-year playing career with his fifth team, the Carolina Panthers.

"To be able to play for a decade in the NFL, a very small fraternity of people ever reach that milestone," Hartsock said. "I always said I was good enough to stick around. I was just never good enough to stick around with one team.

"Everybody wants to have that one-stop career where you have Pro Bowls and only play for one team. That wasn't in the cards for me. But I'm thankful and appreciative that I was talented enough to be able to support enough teams for a certain amount of time to be able to play as long as I did. Just not for one team."

For the past four years, Hartsock has worked as a college football analyst on SiriusXM radio. He can be heard on ESPNU and the Big Ten channels.

"Broadcasting is something every ballplayer wants to get into after the game, and believe it or not, especially at the national level, there's fewer spots in national broadcasting than there are in the NFL," Hartsock said. "And with my lack of pedigree in the NFL, I didn't know that I would be able to get that opportunity.

"But a door was opened for me. A guy that was a Columbus, Ohio sports talk host, Ian Fitzsimmons, he was always a champion for me. We got to be friends when I was in college. And throughout my NFL career, he followed me and said that I should get into broadcasting. He got me an interview to try out and the rest is history. So I'm thankful for the relationship all those years ago that opened the door to be able to give me the job I have today.

"College football was a transformative part of my life and I think it's a transformative time for lots of people's lives. Both football players and just general population. And it's the area of football that I find that I'm most passionate about. There's something special about that time of life. There's something about college players being amateurs and chasing that NFL dream that I think bonds and makes tremendous relationships."

Making his home in Auburn, Georgia, Hartsock and his wife, Amy, have two daughters: Whitney, a sophomore in high school, and Lindsey, who is in the eighth grade.

"I'm just blessed that God has gifted me with tremendous support with my family," Hartsock said. "And I've been blessed to have a life full of incredible sporting experiences. Football has been interwoven in my life. From my scholarship offer to Ohio State, to winning a national championship there, to being drafted into the NFL, and even living the journeyman NFL experience of playing for five different teams. It's one spectacular story.

"And now as a broadcaster, I get to tell some of my stories, but I also get to watch generation after generation of younger players now write their own chapters in their stories. And so it's kind of a self-feeding machine. I'm thankful for my chapter in it, but I'm also even more passionate about watching these young guys write their own chapters of their sporting history."