When January enrollee Tee Shepard left the team in mid-March, the Notre Dame cornerback unit was left with just four scholarship competitors, none of which has ever started a contest; one of whom has never played at the collegiate level.
Hardy, a redshirt-freshman who missed 2011 with a torn LCL suffered in August camp, was volunteered by the masses for a position switch: safety to cornerback.
After the team's 10th practice of the 2012 spring session, Hardy cleared up his status in the team's defensive backfield.
"I feel I'm a natural safety. That's the position I feel more comfortable," Hardy offered, adding, "If they needed me to jump out there at corner just to give Bennett (Jackson) and Lo (Wood) some rest…if they told me to go out there, I'd do it. I feel more comfortable at safety but I feel like I could play corner."
He won't have to, though the backup free safety has earned a few repetitions at a position often associated with cornerback play this spring.
"They have me strictly at field (safety) and a lot of Star, too, the nickel back," he said of the position occupied by Robert Blanton in 2011 and Jamoris Slaughter in 2012. "At free (safety) I'm covering more ground, but still checking slot backs and tight ends."
Road to Recovery"It was in our *pop-up tackle drill,," said Hardy of the moment that ended his freshman season last August. "I was the runner, Gary Gray gave me a simple shot, my foot got caught in the turf and my knee hyper extended. I thought at first it was a minor knee injury but the MRI showed my LCL tore."
(*The defender begins lying on his stomach, pops up at the whistle, and chases the ball carrier to the sideline.)
"Rehab was the hardest part, rebuilding muscles and my knee. After surgery, my leg got so much smaller from the muscles … it took time," Hardy explained. "It was just a process for me to get through that, stay humble, stay focused and just be patient."
Hardy's off-season recovery was taxing, but the long road back includes a different kind of rehab: mental application to physical performance.
"I didn't have a lot of reps last year to further my ability in the defense. I'm trying to stay focused in the playbook, watch film, and further my knowledge," Hardy said. "Step one is learning the defense, the calls, and process, everything."
Path to the practice field, playing timeOne of the many defensive backs that cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks calls, "A Level 1" player, Hardy admitted there's an inherent challenge in taking film work to the field.
"Watching film, it starts clicking and it translates to the field. (Eventually) with your natural instincts, you know where to be."
Hardy will be on the field this year, most likely as a member of one or more of the Irish "run teams" (coverage and return units). He'll be a backup free safety and Star (linebacker/safety hybrid) option.
And no matter what, he'll be at Notre Dame through graduation. A lower arm tattoo of Touchdown Jesus, interlocking ND, and the Golden Dome has helped pre-destine the future alum.
"I got it back home (Reynoldsburg, Ohio). "Probably a week before I came up for summer (2011). It was a commitment for me to stay focused," Hardy said of the ink. "My mom always tells me to get my degree. Don't let anything come between that.
"I look at this on my arm and think I have to finish, I have to get through it. No matter how hard school gets and how hard school and football get I have to stay focused and get through it. I look at it every day."
Also included on his daily agenda is a commitment to returning to and improving on his pre-injury form.
"I would say my foot speed and my footwork because I wasn't doing a lot of footwork (drills) when I was injured. I lost a lot of that," said Hardy of his points of emphasis this summer. "Another thing is sharpening my instincts – getting everything quick as possible with learning the calls, getting the calls down, telling the defense what to do.
"It's just a process because I haven't had the reps to be on there and know everything on the spot."
One Hardy has long-been prepared for.