UT Signees Survive Storm, Stay on Course

After living through the storm of the century in Jackson, Tenn., the start of fall practice should be a breeze for incoming Vol freshmen Daniel Brooks and Bo Hardegree.

The Jackson Central Merry seniors came through Monday's devastating tornadoes relatively unscathed and remain focused on July when they'll arrive at Tennessee for the second summer session.

"Both Daniel and Bo are making progress," said Central Merry head coach and Bo's father Jim Hardegree. "Both have really progressed well in the weights. They're using some of the stuff from Tennessee. We've been testing them out and they're progressing. They're also running and throwing and looking forward to getting to Tennessee."

Bo has gained five more pounds and now weighs 200 which is well on the way to his goal of reaching 210 before he arrives in Knoxville. He is up to 270 pounds on the bench press and may be seeing a benefit in both the size and strength departments from not playing competitive tennis this spring. Rated one of the nation's 50 junior tennis players, Hardegree has spent significant time during the spring and summer on the road competing in tennis, which is a tough position from which to make size and strength gains.

"I don't know if it's not playing so much tennis or if it's a (growth) spurt," said coach Hardegree, a 28-year coaching veteran. "He's gaining weight, he's 6-5 and up to about 200. He's been running the program Tennessee has, but we haven't timed him."

When last timed Hardegree was running in the 4.8 range and hoped to shave a tenth of a second off that. Coach Hardegree believes his son will eventually weigh in the 240 range and have 4.7 speed.

Hardegree had the advantage of running an offense at Central Merry that incorporated a lot of the schemes and strategies employed by Tennessee, the result of his father studying the Vols offensive system over the years. He also learned to study film from his father.

Coach Hardegree brought his offense to Central-Merry when he took over the head coaching position in 2000, but he didn't get it installed until Bo was a junior in 2001. As a sophomore, Hardegree had to play with the JV squad in accordance to transfer rules. Daniel Brooks also played JV ball that year for the same reason. Losing the opportunity to run the offense as a sophomore, meant Bo had to learn on the job as a junior. That year of experience paid off last year when he completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,950 yards with 23 touchdowns and only six interceptions.

"I've heard the speed of the game is the biggest adjustment," Hardegree said. "Everybody on the field is faster and everything happens so much faster. In high school, you'll usually have a couple of guys that are good, but everybody on the field is good in college so I'll have to get used to that."

The 6-foot-3 Brooks is now weighing 235 pounds and lifting around 350 in the bench press. A Parade All-American linebacker and the state's No. 1 prospect, Brooks played mostly inside linebacker in the Cougars 4-4 defense and middle linebacker in their 4-3 scheme. Since he's likely to weigh 240 when he arrives in Knoxville, Brooks projects at those same positions at UT. His chances of logging significant early playing time may depend on how often coach John Chavis decides to use the 3-4. The way things currently look, with more proven linebackers on hand than defensive linemen, UT will use it frequently.

Hardegree won't likely redshirt this fall unless either James Banks or C.J. Leak lock down the back-up QB job in preseason practice. Banks currently leads in the competition, but many believe his greatest potential is at wide receiver. Banks hasn't proved he can catch the ball well enough to play wideout at this point, neither has he displayed the passing skills needed for Tennessee's vertical air attack. Leak hasn't exhibited the consistency required of a quality back-up and, as a senior, any experience he gains will not pay future dividends for UT.

Brooks has the speed (4.55) to fit into Tennessee's scheme at middle linebacker and if he could nail down the job behind starter Robert Peace, the Vols would have more flexibility with redshirt sophomore Kevin Simon, who is coming back off of leg and ankle surgery. Additionally, a 3-4 scheme with Brooks and Simon on the inside and Kevin Burnett and Jason Mitchell on the outside would put four highly mobile players with good size in attack positions.

Ironically, Tennessee has the luxury to bring the more physically mature Brooks along slowly, but must rush Hardegree's development given the status he'll take into the spring of 2004 as UT's No. 1 or No. 2 signal caller.

"I want to go up in all the major lifting categories," Hardegree said of his training goals. "I'm doing a lot of footwork drills, I work a lot of that. I want to have a real good understanding of the offense before I get there. I'll be meeting with Coach (Randy) Sanders a lot to go over that."

He's also throwing the football regularly and Brooks is one of his favorite targets. The sculptured linebacker played H-back for Central Merry which went 21-4 combined during the tandem's junior and senior seasons.

"They're excited about going to Tennessee," said coach Hardegree. "They're going to room together up there."

As classmates, teammates and roommates who are from the same hometown and both key cogs in UT's future in counterpart roles, Hardegree and Brooks will have a lot in common and much to share.

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