When starting Fullback Jason Cook went down with a knee injury in the Egg Bowl, Andy Hartmann was waiting in the wings to take over.
"I didn't want to get the job based on Jason getting hurt - we are very good friends and I would never want that to happen, but the last two games did give me an opportunity to prepare myself for my senior year in 2009," said Hartmann. "I was prepared for the extra duty because I had gotten a lot of playing time during the season and Coach (Derrick) Nix always gets me a lot of practice reps.
"Playing in the Cotton Bowl as much as I did was kind of bittersweet because I wanted Jason to get to play, but I had a great time in the game."
And if the 47-34 Cotton Bowl victory over Texas Tech was an indication of what to expect from Andy in a fulltime role, Rebel fans can rest easy.
On the first offensive series of the game, Andy's number was called to receive a direct snap on a fake punt and he rambled for a Rebel first down.
"Coach (James) Shibest told us all week we were going to call it, but I didn't even have a chance to get nervous because it was right after a regular play," he smiled.
Throughout the game, he made key blocks that sprung Rebel RBs. The game culminated with such a block.
Running out of the Wild Rebel, Dexter McCluster took a direct snap and sprinted left around the end. Hartmann led the way, taking out the last Red Raider defender as Dex cut inside his block for the final Rebel touchdown.
"The coaches called great plays that would work if we all did our jobs. On that last run, I just got in the way of the defender and let Dexter do what he does," Hartmann said modestly. "We have great backs who make our jobs easier."
Now, as spring approaches and the offseason is in full swing, Hartmann's goal is simple.
"I need to get more agile and faster," he said. "I have to improve in the passing game so the coaches will keep that element in their gameplan. Jason did a great job of catching the ball out of the backfield and I want some of that in my final year.
"I have always had faith in my hands, but I need to work on my speed and agility in routes and in getting to the point of attack in the run game quicker."
He has already seen an improvement in his speed and quickness through roughly two weeks of offseason work.
"I'm at 244 pounds right now, but I want to get down to 240 before spring. That will help my speed and quickness," Andy noted. "The last couple of years I have been running with the linebackers and tight ends in the offseason, but this year I am with the wideouts and running backs and we are working more speed drills. Strength-wise, I am OK.
"Being with those faster guys, it motivates me. I keep getting closer to them in drills, which is very satisfying."
Andy said his role will change this spring - he's now a senior.
"Jason is a great leader. I can't be Jason, but I can be the best I can be. I have always tried to lead by example, but I need to become more vocal now that I am a senior," he stated. "I hope the guys challenging me for the job will look up to me like we all did Jason.
"Derrick Davis has moved to fullback and then there is Dan Hoffman and H.R. Greer. We are all close. I want to set a good example for them and help them like Jason helped me."
Andy was a tailback in high school but he has taken on a fullback mentality through his years at Ole Miss.
"I used to let it bother me that fullbacks don't get the ball much, but as I have matured, I really don't care any more. I get as much satisfaction from springing a back for a TD as I would scoring one myself. I know it's cliche', but as long as we win, I'm fine with my role," he stated.
Hartmann expects the team to take on a different attitude now that they are the hunted and not the hunter, so to speak.
"We will not get satisfied. We had a really good year last year, but we feel we can do so much more," he closed. "We won't rest on our laurels. In fact, if anything, we will be more determined.
"We've finally gotten a taste of success and we want more. We are excited about the future and are working hard to make sure we are successful again."
Andy Hartmann -
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