Bloomington, Ind. – The decision to sit out the basketball season may have been a tough one for James Hardy, but in the long run it could prove to be the best move of his football career.
"I'm focused on football, that's my number one thing," said Hardy. "I'm just watching basketball as a fan right now. I was rooting the guys on in the tournament and what not, but football is number one."
Late last year, Hardy's intentions weren't to watch the basketball team from the sidelines. When the end of the football season rolled around, Hardy attempted to make the move back to the hardwood, but was kept out of the lineup by the achilles injury that bothered him for the better part of the 2005 football season.
"For the time being it is a little difficult not being on the court with those guys," said Hardy. "I did try to go out on the court and practice with those guys, but once I made the decision I blocked basketball out of my mind. I'm trying not to think about it anymore. The only thing I'm worried about is football and trying to make myself better at football."
The time away from basketball allowed Hardy to nurse a handful of injuries that slowed him during his redshirt freshman season, including his Achilles and a quadriceps injury. Even with the pain, Hardy led the Big Ten with 89.3 receiving yards per game and caught ten touchdown passes on his way to garnering the second-team All-Big Ten honors.
"I did everything to get healthy," said Hardy. "I came in twice a day for treatment. I stretched three to four times a day. What it took. I've done whatever the trainers have told me to do. The time I had off was just to heal. It's not easy being a 6'7" receiver. Injuries were a part of the season last year and I want to put that in the past."
With Hardy missing the entire basketball season and D.J. White having to sit out most of the Hoosiers' season, the basketball Hoosiers missed two very important parts of their lineup – something Hardy is not about let happen to his gridiron teammates.
"I talked to D.J. a bit about his injuries, but I don't want to dwell on the injuries," said Hardy. "I want to get that out of my head so I can have a good, healthy season. I don't like to dwell on bad things. I know he's trying to get back to 100 percent and I'm feeling good. We both want to be back to where we were."
Getting back to where Hardy was last season is not the goal of Indiana head coach Terry Hoeppner. Hardy spent most of the 2005 season with nagging injuries that may have prevented him from reaching his full potential. In 2006, Hoeppner wants to see even more out of his 6'7" receiver.
"Quite honestly, he's really not there yet," said Hoeppner. "He's able to go, compared to last spring when he wasn't doing anything. He's still a work in progress, but it's good to have him out there. The big fellow, he's special."
Hoeppner stands to gain the most out of Hardy's decision to stay off the basketball court, although he admits he is more worried about Hardy's health and happiness than if he is a two-sport star.
"At this level it's hard to do both," said Hoeppner. "Selfishly speaking, for me and my family it was a good move."
The move seems to be paying off for Hardy already very early in spring practice.
"My Achilles is healed now," said Hardy. "With the time off and treatment it was able to heal. It feels great. Every time I had to run I was limping last year. Now that I've eliminated that, I feel great."
Less pain means Hardy can focus on improving his game from where he ended last season. Hardy is working on his breakaway speed to add new dimensions to his game.
"The workouts that we had in the fall have made my speed better and I'm continuing to get faster," he said. "These spring practices have been the first time I've been able to have consistent days of just running. I'm just trying to build my legs back up and carry that into the season.
"I'm focusing on being consistent and more explosive. I'm making sure to run my routes right, just doing everything better than last year. Freshman year is over and I'm ready to build on what I did and what we did as a team."
Hardly An Easy Decision For Hardy
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