Senior DE Greg Hardy has often been thought of as the Jevan Snead for Ole Miss defensively. Considering his value to the Rebels' chances in 2009, it's certainly understandable.
So when the Memphis, Tenn. native tweaked the recently repaired stress fracture in his right foot during a car wreck, Rebel fans everywhere figured the worst. As has been the case throughout his career, Hardy has been no stranger to injury.
"He's been through a lot," Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said. "He's already been through surgery. I was hoping and praying he wasn't going to have to go through another surgery. He's been through so much. He's had a great attitude the entire time. To get the doctor's message (Monday) was just great."
While he totaled impressive numbers last season, Hardy was still struggling with his ailing foot.
He earned second team All-SEC honors from the SEC Coaches and honorable mention from the Associated Press, but only played in nine games. Hardy's team-high 8.5 sacks ranked third in the SEC, and his 0.94 sacks per game would have ranked seventh in the NCAA had he played in 75 percent of the games.
But after getting a positive diagnosis Monday, Hardy is close to returning – a chilling proposition for quarterbacks in the SEC West.
"I feel great," said Hardy, who will have to stay in his walking boot for an additional two weeks. "You always have some worries, since this has happened twice before, but I came out of it pretty well."
Hardy said he didn't feel any pain initially following the wreck, but began to sense some discomfort later in the day.
"Your adrenaline is flowing after the accident," he said. "I was just worried about everybody getting out of there safely. I really didn't feel it until a long time after it happened.
"We were just driving and something unexpected happened. I just feel blessed to come up out of it. Like I said, when I came back down from my adrenaline, some things were bruised up. But really, nothing was going through my mind. I was just shocked."
While Hardy is eager to get back on the field, the staff will take precautionary measures to ensure the star defender is near full health come gametime.
"We'll take it slow. With Tim Mullins and the doctors, they're going to have a good feel for it. And Greg has to be honest with us as well," said Nutt. "I know this is his last year and he'll be wanting to play, but we have to do the right thing."
"I always want to tell myself I can go out there and practice right now," Hardy added. "But just being smart about the situation, going slow will be the best thing for it. I have to make sure I'm 100 percent for the season so we can have a good one."
Like his teammate Dexter McCluster (who was riding in the passenger's seat) said previously, Hardy has gained a renewed perspective about football.
"Overall, it's given me a new appreciation for everything, for life itself," he said. "Everything is precious, man. I love it. I've got teammates I've had for four years, in a place I've been happy at for four years. I'm playing a game I love, so I don't think it gets any better."
While Hardy obviously has high expectations for himself, Nutt only wants what's best for the three-year letterman long-term.
"He has to be extremely honest with us and let us know. If there's going to be some soreness and inflammation some days, tell us. We'll put him out there when he's ready to go," Nutt said. "The good news is he's going to be able to go through practice. We'll judge it and go by what he and the doctors say."
"I wouldn't say I'm in great shape, but I'm in good enough shape that I can come back," Hardy said of his current conditioning. "I was running with the team before the accident. I ran my 100s and 110s good. I feel good about myself. The (underwater treadmill) worked well the last time. It kept me in good shape to come back and run with the team. We'll stick with that approach."
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