Last Tuesday in Knoxville, Tennessee’s veteran tailback listed the following objectives for the 2009 campaign.
“I want to help our team win the SEC championship. That’s goal number one,” he said. “I want to get over 1,000 yards rushing, and I want to lead the SEC in touchdowns. But the number one goal is definitely to get to the SEC championship game, and I think we’ve got the talent here to do it.”
It might be difficult to find many outside of the Volunteers’ football complex who share that opinion.
This week, at the Southeastern Conference’s media days in Alabama, Florida is expected to be the overwhelming winner of the preseason vote on which team will win the league title. In fact, it would be a surprise if the Vols recorded a single first-place vote in the balloting on the SEC East.
Hardesty, however, keeps the faith.
“We went 5-7 last year. We didn’t go to a bowl game. That’s not how a Tennessee team plays, so I can understand that we’re down this year in the preseason polls coming in,” he said. “But preseason polls don’t really matter. It all depends on how you do on the field.
“I don’t think any team could be outworking us right now, so we’re just going to have to go on the field and show it.”
The question is how great a role Hardesty will play in the offense. The native North Carolinian left spring practice atop the depth chart at tailback. As well-chronicled, though, the incoming freshmen will get an automatic chance to earn playing time when preseason camp begins in two weeks. For Hardesty, the young competition includes David Oku and Bryce Brown, the top overall prospect in the 2009 class.
Hardesty, however, finds himself in new territory — entrenched as the No. 1 tailback.
“I’m in the best shape I’ve been in” he said, adding: “If they want me to carry the ball 30 times, I’ll be ready.”
Hardesty will run out of the zone blocking scheme that Lane Kiffin and Jim Chaney brought to Knoxville. When the implementation process began this spring, he watched film of Southern Cal to see how it was done while Kiffin coached there.
“There was a play where one of the running backs ran for 60 yards downfield, and the line was running 40 or 50 yards downfield with him,” Hardesty recalled.
Hardesty also endorsed Tauren Poole as a player to watch. The rising sophomore had an impressive spring practice session, rising to the occasion even before Lennon Creer left the team.
“He’s one of the strongest guys on the team, so you can’t overlook Tauren Poole,” Hardesty said of Poole. “He definitely gets after it hard.”
As for Oku and Brown …
“We ain’t put on the pads yet, so we’ll see,” Hardesty said. “We ain’t put on the pads yet.”
John Moorehouse covers University of Tennessee football for the Times-News. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.