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Montre Hartage’s improbable journey to Chicago

CHICAGOMontre Hartage was an unlikely participant in Monday’s Big Ten Media Day, at least if you consider where he was four years ago. The Northwestern senior was chosen by head coach Pat Fitzgerald to represent the Wildcat’s program, but he almost never was a Wildcat in the first place.

“It was a couple days before Signing Day,” Hartage recalled. “I was committed to Georgia Southern – a Sun Belt team – and I got the call. (Northwestern) was one of my schools that had been in contact with me, but didn’t really have the space to give me a scholarship.

“We just had a scholarship become available,” Fitzgerald said. “We called down there and told them we’re going to recruit Montre. We brought he and his father up, and the rest is history.”

Ironically, Hartage got the call from Fitzgerald on Super Bowl Sunday. Defensive end Zach Allen had just decommitted from Northwestern the day before, opening up the scholarship. Hartage called Fitzgerald at halftime to verbally commit.

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Montre Hartage
Montre Hartage (Josh Helmholdt / Rivals.com)

The 2015 class that included Hartage was not one of Northwestern’s most heralded. The one that preceded it had current and former stars like quarterback Clayton Thorson and running back Justin Jackson. But Hartage has proven to be one of the biggest gets in that 2015 class, even if he almost never made it to Evanston.

“Our success rate with what we call Mr. Irrelevant – the last guy we take on scholarship – has been unbelievable. He was our Mr. Irrelevant four years ago,” Fitzgerald noted. “I think the lack of recruiting put a chip on his shoulder, and that’s how he’s worked every day he’s been a part of this program. It’s been really fun to watch.”

Although he did not come into the program with the accolades of some of his classmates, Hartage did come out of Cordele (Ga.) Crisp County with a desire to prove he belonged. He wound up playing in all 13 games as a true freshman in 2015, on special teams and occasionally as a reserve cornerback.

He has now started 26 straight games for Northwestern and intercepted eight career passes.

“I am a competitor,” he said. “I want to win. I want to compete at the highest level and I want to see my team be successful.

Fitzgerald calls Hartage a carbon copy of former Wildcat and current Chicago Bear Sherrick McManis, from his leadership in the film room, to his work ethic in the weight room. Those attributes have led to an eight-year pro career for McManis. Could the NFL also be Hartage's next destination?

“Honestly, it has always been a day one goal I’ve wanted to accomplish,” Hartage admitted. “Now, I’ve been given an opportunity to showcase my talent on a platform such as Northwestern and a platform such as the Big Ten. I’m looking to continue my journey.”