Hardesty, who spoke with Inside Carolina at his school on Friday, in between visits with UNC assistant coach Brad Lawing and N.C. State's Manny Diaz, said he will now hold off on his decision until after he visits the Vols' campus in Knoxville on Jan. 17.
"If I had to say who was ahead, it would probably be Tennessee," Hardesty said.
According to Scout.com's Miller Safrit, Hardesty was likely visited by the Tennessee coaches this week, throwing a monkey wrench into what appeared to be plans for a verbal to Carolina mid-week.
Even Bears' veteran coach Chip Williams said as recently as Monday that he believed Hardesty would decide this week.
But the urgency with which Hardesty will make up his mind seems to have subsided – at least for now.
"It depends on what day it is," said Williams, who coached N.C. in last year's Shrine Bowl. "It's a hard decision for an 18-year-old to make. Everyone is offering and everyone has their own opinion.
"I think he's probably narrowed it down to three, but then again, somebody else might come in and change that," Williams said. "But I think it's down to Virginia Tech, Tennessee and North Carolina. It's hard to say. I try not to get into the talk part too much. I try to listen, and then if he has a question, then I answer.
"I know a lot of schools wish he would go ahead and commit, so they can go ahead and move on to the next guy on their recruiting board," Williams said. "Most of the schools talking to him now, are willing to wait to until Signing Day. So that is where we are now."
A shy, soft-spoken type, Hardesty spent a lot of time looking down at his hands and shifting his weight from one foot to the other when talking about his dilemma.
On one hand, he is enamored by the history of Tennessee football and its 100,000-plus-capacity stadium. On the other, he wants to please his parents and stay close to home. He sincerely believes the Tar Heels program is on the upswing and thinks he would have an excellent opportunity for early playing time at Carolina.
"Tennessee has tradition – a great football school," Hardesty said. "Virginia Tech, the same thing, they've been good for the last two or three years. They have a nice stadium and it's a good school. Carolina is right down the road, and it seems like their football program is coming back up. I like the opportunity that I would have at North Carolina. I don't know if I could get a better education than I could there. Clemson, I like their running back coach. The only thing about them is they've got more of a pass offense. N.C. State is up there, too."
He says UT has the slight edge on UNC and VT right now, while he doesn't rule out the others – Clemson and NCSU.
Hardesty grew up a FSU fan, but he said he has no interest in attending school there.
"I had an offer from Florida State, but I didn't like it."
Hardesty led the Bears (11-2) in rushing, but their season ended sooner than some expected, losing to Cary (N.C.) Green Hope in the playoffs. New Bern's two losses were by just one point each – one coming in double overtime and the other after the Bears blew a 19-17 lead.
Hardesty has an aggressive running style. His strong upper body (335-pound bench press) enables him to turn the ball up field, instead of looking for the sideline, Williams said.
"He's got real good work habits. He's a fairly fast kid who has improved his speed over the summer. If he continues to do that, he'll be about as fast as anybody."
Williams said Hardesty has qualified academically for whatever school he chooses.
"I think it's easy to get your feelings hurt over recruiting. But, the bottom line is, if you've got six offensive linemen and you don't need one, then there isn't much need to recruit one," Chip Williams said. "And I'm not sure where Carolina is on the need of an offensive lineman – if you know what I'm saying."
However, Carolina is in good shape for Bears defensive back Chris Martin (5-10, 155, 4.45), who probably is a prep school candidate. However, Williams said Martin already has a high enough SAT score.
"Chris is a very physical player," Williams said.