Hard hitting Hardt not giving up

Even when things are bleak, look for 33. The score may be lopsided, guys may be tired, but wherever the ball is, #33 will be close by. When other guys are arm tackling, 33 is still laying the wood.

Clay Hardt has been one of the few bright spots on this year's edition of Wildcat football. With the defense logging unfair minutes, some players tire and let down just a bit. Watch the game closely and you'll see some defenders dropping their heads and arm tackling, sure signs of frustration and fatigue. Not Hardt, he keeps going. He keeps hitting. He keeps trying.

"That's the type of player I am," Hardt said "I'm never going to quit."

Hardt, more than anyone has been disappointed in how this team has played. The fifth year senior has never played for a winner, never played in a bowl game. With his team mired in a horrible three-game losing streak, Hardt is seeing his chances at a bowl game dwindling.

Many players would feel bad for themselves. Many players might doubt their teammates or coaches. Some players would curse their bad luck or wonder "why me?" That's not Hardt's style. Hardt looks to see what he can do first to fix things.

"I think I need to be more of a leader," Hardt confessed. "I've been slacking on that a little bit in our first couple of games. I feel a lot more comfortable with that role now. I'm not as vocal as maybe I should be. I play hard and try to inspire my teammates with the way I play. They're going to know. You can tell who is playing hard."

One person who thinks Hardt has been a good leader is John Mackovic. Mackovic named Hardt a captain for the Purdue game due in large part to things Hardt did in practice. Mackovic saw Hardt doing some new things in practice and asked his rover why he was trying to side step blocks instead of drilling the guy like he usually does. Hardt mentioned that the coaches suggested the technique in an earlier practice and he thought he would try it.

"That's what were looking for," Mackovic said. "We're looking for someone who says, ‘here's what I want to do and the coaches gave me an idea to be a better player and I'm going to try it.' Whether it works or not, doesn't matter. That's a form of leadership."

Statements like that may seem strange. Hardt and Mackovic have not had the best relationship. Hardt was a Tomey recruit and had trouble with Mackovic's style. Things came to a head last season in Seattle when the two reportedly had a heated verbal altercation after the Washington game. Privately Hardt was rumored to be outspoken about his coach and his mother was very public about her dislike for the direction of the program.

Any animosity between the two seems to have gone away. Both player and coach are full of praise for one another.

"He changed a lot since then," Hardt said. "From then to now to me he's been really, really good. He's been solid. He's done a lot of things that has caught the attention of our team in a good way. I know it hasn't shown on the scoreboard but that's not because he wasn't doing things the right way."

Hardt, like most of the players on the team, have heard the negative comments about the coach. Players hear things in the stands and know what is being said on talk radio. Hardt is not happy with what is being said, but knows it's pretty standard when things are not going well.

"It's tough for all out coaches, I'm sure it is as tough for them as it is for us," said Hardt. "I'm sure it's a little more for him (Mackovic) because he's the head coach. I don't think he deserves it at all. I think people jump the gun and want to say something bad as fast as they can. It's not him, we haven't been playing well as a team."

Things don't get any easier, TCU is the fourth straight ranked team the Wildcats have faced and the Cats won't play a non-bowl qualifier until they travel to Berkeley in late October. The schedule is daunting, but Hardt does not shy away from the competition.

"It doesn't get any easier, but that's how I like it," Hardt said. "I'd rather play the best teams in the nation rather than the worst teams in the nation. You get a better understanding of yourself after those types of games."

Things could be rougher before it gets better, but Hardt expects his teammates to be focused and keep fighting. With things going wrong, one has to wonder if everyone still has their heads above water? "I think so, if not they better get into the boat," Hardt said.

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