Considering what a disaster Hardegree's 2005 season was, it's understandable that the 6-5, 215-pound junior from Jackson was looking to redeem himself Saturday in the first spring scrimmage of 2006. Mission accomplished. He completed 13 of 19 throws for 87 yards and a touchdown. He exhibited good velocity, good touch, good timing and – best of all – good decision-making.
Maybe – just maybe – Bo Hardegree has turned the proverbial corner after three seasons spent watching and waiting for an opportunity.
"I've been waiting awhile," he said, grinning sheepishly. "I'm finally getting a good run, getting in the competition. I'm enjoying it."
Junior quarterback Erik Ainge is working with the first team this spring, with Hardegree and redshirt freshman Jonathan Crompton splitting repetitions with the second team. New offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe already has noticed Hardegree's eagerness to prove himself.
"Sure," Cutcliffe said. "Everybody deserves an opportunity to compete. That's what we're trying to give them right now. With Jonathan coming off shoulder surgery, he and Bo are sharing reps. I want them to compete, and we'll see what happens. I'm really pleased with both of them."
Ainge directed the first two series of Saturday's scrimmage, then Hardegree got his chance. He promptly completed his first pass attempt, a 15-yard strike to Bill Grimes that had plenty of zip on it. That helped Hardegree relax a bit.
"That was big," he said. "It's always big getting that first ball in the receiver's hands."
Hardegree built on that early success, finishing the day with a solid performance that should boost his confidence and intensify the quarterback competition. Clearly, Hardegree has come a long way since getting benched in last year's O&W game.
"Yeah, that was tough," he recalled. "I've been waiting awhile for this opportunity, so I'm just trying to make the best of it. I didn't get hardly any reps last year – nothing like this – and it makes a difference. You start seeing things better."
Tennessee's offense was anemic last fall, averaging just 18 points per game as the Vols limped home 5-6. Cutcliffe is making some changes this spring that Hardegree believes will prove beneficial.
"There's a lot of motions and shifts," he said. "And practice is a lot faster. We're moving around a lot faster than we've ever moved around. We're getting better day by day as an offense. It's exciting."
Hardegree summed up Cutcliffe's approach in one word:
"Intense. He's a great coach and he wants the best out of us. He's an intense guy."
Asked to rate his performance in the scrimmage, Hardegree paused briefly before responding.
"I think I did some good things and I did some bad things," he said. "We'll know a lot more after we see the tape."
You'd never guess his dad's a high school coach, would you?