As Mecole Hardman visits one college campus after another and sits down with coaches salivating over his talents, Tennessee’s amount of competition it must hold off to get the Scout 300 member to sign grows.
The Scout four-star prospect told InsideTennessee in the winter that he needed to get a feel for what those programs pursuing him have to offer.
Miles and miles of travel later, coach Butch Jones and his staff still have the Volunteers a prime spot in the hunt to get Hardman.
“You know they’re at the top right now with Georgia; they’re No. 1 with Georgia,” Hardman told InsideTennessee. “They’re going to stay out there until somebody comes in and shows me something different. They’re right there with Georgia at No. 1. They’re battling for the No. 1 spot. So, they’re definitely at the top.”
The 5-foot-11, 165-pounder’s most recent trip to Rocky Top came in late April to see the Orange & White game at Neyland Stadium.
“I think it was a great atmosphere that day knowing that it was supposed to rain and a lot of people had canceled their plans but just that many people to show up and support Tennessee was a great feeling and getting love from the crowd an everything,” Hardman said. “It was an overall great atmosphere.”
South-Doyle (Tenn.) High School product and Knoxville native Jocquez Bruce enrolls at Tennessee and gets his career as a Vol started this summer. Bruce and Hardman shared laughs on Shields-Watkins Field prior to kickoff for the spring finale.
“Me and Joc just talk about going to Tennessee and making a big difference,” Hardman said. “He’s already committed of course. We battled in 7-on-7 a couple times. We think we could do big things at Tennessee if — well he’s already there — if I was to come play with him. We just talk about normal conversations. We don’t talk about committing or anything like that.”
Hardman said his head coach at Elbert County (Ga.) High spoke with Vols defensive backs coach Willie Martinez in person recently. However, rules prohibit coaches from recruiting the prospects while on the high school campuses during the NCAA Evaluation Period.
“I think he was there talking to my head coach, so I think he was on campus,” Hardman said.
"They’re going to stay out there until somebody comes in and shows me something different." — Mecole Hardman
Universities like Tennessee recognize the skill set of the nation’s No. 12-ranked athlete. Regardless of which side of the ball he calls home, Hardman figures to be a standout performer.
“They want me both ways, but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to play both ways,” he said. “Like I tell them, they can put me in a position to where I can produce. I just want to help the team — wide receiver or DB it doesn’t really matter. I think Georgia is actually leaning a bit more on the DB side. Tennessee actually wants me at wide receiver.”
Hardman stopped short of declaring which position he most enjoys playing.
“I don’t know. It can go both ways because if you got that good feeling by being a lockdown corner, they don’t really throw to your side. I think wide receiver is a more fun position because of scoring touchdowns, making big plays with one-handed catches. I think that’s the more fun position. I think DB is more hype if you get the big hit or interception or pick-six.”
Tennessee returns 19 starters from a 2014 team that finished 7-6, including a TaxSlayer Bowl victory over Iowa. Hardman saw the Volunteers compete at Neyland Stadium in the fall, saw them practice in the spring and has high hopes for the Big Orange in 2015.
“Tennessee can be great,” he said. “They’re an underdog, but they’re coming up. Coach (Butch) Jones is doing a great job with the program and great recruiting. They’ve got a great coaching staff. So I think they’ve got a good chance to shock a lot of people this year.
“That’s big because if you get all these top 5 classes together and put them together and make you work, then a lot of stuff can happen. You look at Alabama when they signed all them No. 1 classes. When you put them together, you win championships. So I think it’s a great thing with putting everybody together. Alvin Kamara is coming in now to help Jalen Hurd. You’ve got Josh Dobbs, who is really improving at quarterback. I don’t think they’re really deep at wide receiver this year but they have a class coming in of wide receivers. So I think it will be a great year for them. Their whole defense is coming back and they’re going to be real hard to score against."
The four-star has “a lot going on right now” but plans to return to Tennessee’s campus in June or July.
“I’m definitely going to go there and visit. I’m going to make 3-4 more visits to Tennessee, especially I’m going to go to about 2-3 games this fall. So I’m going to be visiting them a lot this summer, especially with my top schools to find out what school I want to go to.”