Aaron Kelton paused for a moment to come up with one word that best describes his star senior wideout/kick returner, Darren Hartwell.
The third-year Williams College coach settled on “perseverance.”
“Darren’s come from being a nonfactor to one of the most dynamic players in the [NESCAC],” Kelton said. “He’s explosive.”
The former three-sport star at North Reading High gave further evidence of his talent last Saturday at Hamilton College when he ran back the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.
“I saw a huge hole, cut it back to the middle, then cut it straight downfield,” said Hartwell. “The kicker was the last man to beat.”
In the Ephs’ 34-26 win, Hartwell averaged 46 yards on three kickoff returns, and 18.2 yards on four punt returns. He also caught six passes, one a 38-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, the 19th of his career, to break the school record.
“Pretty amazing,” said Hartwell, who was named Special Teams Player of the Week in the NESCAC. “They’ve been playing football for [127 years].”
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Hartwell played junior varsity as a freshman and was in the middle of the depth chart as a sophomore.
“Then coach kind of threw me in there against Trinity,” he recalled.
In that game, Hartwell ran a go-route that resulted in an 80-yard touchdown, and added two more TDs later.
Suddenly, he wasn’t a secret anymore.
“Coach included me in the rotation,” said Hartwell.
That was something special, because the Ephs rolled to an 8-0 campaign in Kelton’s first season.
Last season, as a junior, Hartwell caught six touchdown passes and returned a punt the distance. Opponents were taking him into account in their game plans now.
“I had to make some adjustments,” said Hartwell. “I was running better routes and blocking more. I wanted to be more of a complete player.”
Kelton, a standout running back on the Wellesley High team that snapped Natick’s 38-game winning streak in 1985, said: “Darren will do anything you need him to. Without him I don’t know where we’d be.”
Hartwell is one of three captains for the 3-3 Ephs.
“He’s setting records in just three years,” said Kelton.
In high school, Hartwell played football, baseball, and basketball. This spring he is expected to earn his fourth baseball letter, as an outfielder. More of a contact hitter, he led Williams in runs scored and stolen bases last spring.
Hartwell is interested in sports journalism; he’s interned at Red Sox games for ESPNBoston and written for Patriots Football Weekly.
“It was pretty cool sitting in on a Tom Brady press conference for the first time,” said Hartwell.
He also covers Williams hockey for the school’s athletic department website.
In the summer 0f 2011, Hartwell took a teaching fellowship with the X-Mester program at Vincennes University in Indiana. The program prepares inner-city students and their families for the transition to college.
“I stayed with the students in the dorms,” said Hartwell. “We worked on writing and grammar. I made sure they did their homework. We set up a journalism Web design.”
Hartwell has an older brother, Wesley, who attended Bowdoin and is more interested in recreational sports and music.
“But my parents [Stephen and Joy] make him come to my games,” said Darren.