Wait is Over For Talented Donsay Hardeman

The wait is finally over. Coach Ron Zook first recruited Illini safety Donsay Hardeman four years ago, and he finally saw the field Saturday at Penn State. Two years of junior college and arthoscopic knee surgery early this fall delayed his college career, but Donsay is eager to make up for lost time now.

A product of Raines High School in Jacksonville, Florida, Hardeman was recruited heavily after being listed as one of the top 10 players in Florida his senior year of high school. He then attended Georgia Military College for two years to gain his eligibility for Illinois. He explains his odyssey.

"In high school my sophomore or junior year, I was actually going to Florida when Zook was there. But he ended up resigning and came here. Coach Disch stuck with me for two plus years. He's a good guy, and I was always a man of my word. Also, I wanted to try something new."

The hard-hitting 6'-2", 220 pounder continued his outstanding play in junior college, being rated the #7 prospect nationally last year. He is considered a future NFL prospect, so Coaches Zook and Disch had to be chomping at the bit to get him on the field. A freak accident at Camp Rantoul was unwelcome for player and coaches alike.

"The week before we played Missouri, I got hurt. I thought I was healthy, so I came out and played. But I told the coach I thought something was wrong. So I had an MRI, and they told me I tore my meniscus.

"Coach Zook was in the office in the dark, so I knew something was wrong. When he told me I had to have surgery, I actually broke down in tears."

Fortunately, the surgery to remove torn cartilage was a simple one.

"They told me I was going to be out maybe 3-4 weeks, depending on my rehab. So I rehabbed three times a day. It was still four weeks before it was comfortable, so I missed the first three games.

"It was my left knee. I'd say it's about 90% now. I still feel pain. I'm starting to feel it more with the weather change. I've got the old man's knee."

Hardeman made up for lost time quickly once he returned to the practice field during the bye week.

"I came back in the bye week and showed Coach I could run. I tried to do the same things I always do."

Doing what he always does was good enough to start and participate in 61 plays against the Nittany Lions.

"It was my job to start, but it wasn't my choice. So I was ready. If Coach was ready, I was ready for whatever he gave me. My first tackle, I missed but he ended up falling, so it knocked a little rust off. But second half, I came out and played pretty well."

Donsay denied being nervous playing his first game on a national stage in a hostile environment.

"Penn State was the first game I've played since November of last year in junior college, so it was pretty fun. A lot of excitement. I've never seen that many people at one time. At junior college, there was 200-300 people there. Actually, the crowd gave me energy. Playing with a crowd like that was my motivation."

Hardeman was more frustrated by Penn State tendencies than by the complexity of their offense or their talent.

"Actually, it wasn't hard. I was just getting frustrated. They were doing a lot of running and not passing. I had one pass come my way. I had a whole shot. I kind of took it on, but I kind of missed it too because I was so anxious to get the big hit. I've just got to slow down and be under control. I might get more looks Michigan game because I know they throw a lot."

The polite and confident young man provided only generalities when describing his game.

"I sit there and do what I was blessed with. I use my God-given talent. I love to hit, but I love to intercept more. I love to make plays and make plays all day."

If Donsay Hardeman looks up to anyone, it is a former standout safety from his high school who now plays his trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.

"My inspiration is Brian Dawkins. He came from Raines High School. So I kind of watch him play. Most people at my high school predict I'm gonna be another Brian Dawkins."

Donsay said he was eager to see snow for the first time, but even the beginning of fall in Illinois can chill the bones of a Floridian unaccustomed to it.

"No sir, I don't like this weather. Right now, it's too cold for me. So I bundled up and put on every gear they gave me."

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