RENTON, WA - After wrapping up Monday's first regular season practice, Penny Hart was told to report upstairs to visit with team officials about a potential pay raise. At the time, he suspected the meeting had to do with his status on the Seahawks practice squad.
But Seattle had a much different plan in mind for Hart, informing the second-year receiver he would be elevated to the 53-man roster for the upcoming season opener in Atlanta against the Falcons.
"I had no clue," Hart smiled when asked if his reaction to being promoted.
On Tuesday, the Seahawks made an unexpected move swapping Hart for former seventh-round pick John Ursua, who was waived in a corresponding move. When asked why the team made the decision, coach Pete Carroll didn't delve into specifics, showing gamesmanship with a relative non-answer.
"We're really excited about Penny [Hart] getting a chance to be on the roster," Carroll said. "We love Johnny [Ursua] too. It just was - there's concerns going through the final releases and stuff like that and it just turned out this way."
Hart's path to the Seahawks active roster has been a challenging one, starting with the former Georgia State star going undrafted in the 2019 NFL Draft. Originally signed by the Colts, he suffered a hamstring injury during the early stages of his first training camp and missed all but the final preseason game.
Indianapolis waived Hart with an injury designation and after he went unclaimed, he reverted to the team's injured reserve list. He eventually reached an injury settlement with the organization and returned home as his hamstring continued to heal.
Receiving a dose of perspective without a team for a couple of months, a fully recovered Hart received a tryout with Seattle in October. Impressing the coaching staff, he was signed to the practice squad shortly after and remained with the team for the rest of the season before signing a future/reserve contract in January.
Looking back, Hart believes the chance to practice with the Seahawks during the final three months of the season propelled him to the success he enjoyed in last month's training camp, especially without OTAs, minicamps, or exhibition games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"With everything going on right now, having the opportunities that I did," Hart explained. "This staff giving me opportunities to go out there and show what I got in practice with no preseason games, it made it just that much more meaningful to me for them to be able to give me the opportunity to be on the 53."
Listed at 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, Hart told reporters his diminutive size often leads to people trying to "label" him as a slot receiver. But he admitted he hasn't been used primarily in the slot since his freshman season at Georgia State, when he produced 1,109 receiving yards and eight touchdowns while earning First-Team All-Sun Belt honors.
Playing mostly on the outside in his final two college seasons, Hart thrived as one of the nation's most dynamic playmakers for the Panthers. Coming off an injury-shortened season, he surpassed 1,100 receiving yards and scored eight touchdowns in 2017, once again earning First-Team All-Sun Belt honors.
By the time Hart left early with one year of eligibility remaining, he ranked first in Georgia State's history in receiving touchdowns and second in both receptions and receiving yards. He also starred on special teams, returning a punt for a touchdown in his final season with the school.
"Anything they ask me to do, I'm ready for." Hart asserted.
While Hart saw some action out of the slot for the Seahawks during last month's camp, he played the bulk of his reps on the outside and saw a few carries on jet sweeps as a runner, showing off his versatility.
Finishing off his first camp on a strong note, Hart reeled in multiple touchdowns from Russell Wilson on the practice field, continuing to develop a rapport with Seattle's star quarterback. As the month progressed and injuries started to rack up at the receiver position, he received more chances to show what he could do and capitalized.
Having been promoted the 53-man roster for the first time in his NFL career, Hart knows he still has plenty of work left to do and his spot with the team is far from secure. But now that he's finally made it, he's confident in his ability to contribute at the highest level and prove he belongs with the Seahawks.
"I worked my butt off to get here and I have a long, long way to go, but it's constantly putting myself in position, continuing to every single day - no matter how many mistakes that I might make or how I feel about myself - just continuing to wake up and remind myself of who I am and the type of player that I am and knowing that I'm worthy of being here and I'm worthy of making the plays anytime that my number is called and the ball is coming my way."