Hardesty passes first test

As Tennessee's football team prepared for Saturday night's scrimmage, coaches, teammates, fans and media alike were wondering: Would Montario Hardesty's surgically repaired knee hold up under game conditions? Heck, he was wondering the same thing.

The answer was a resounding yes. Montario Hardesty, who hadn't carried the ball in a game-type situation since tearing his ACL last Oct. 1 against Ole Miss, carried nine times for 24 yards and a touchdown in the scrimmage. Far more significant than those rushing statistics, though, was this: He wasn't fearful and he wasn't tentative.

Still, he admits feeling relief that his knee stood up to its first real test in nearly 11 months.

"It felt good," he said. "You're always thinking in the back of your head, ‘What if I plant like this and do something?' But you just have to go out and play. I did that, and everything felt good."

Hardesty missed Tennessee's first full-scale scrimmage because of swelling in his knee. When an MRI showed no damage to the knee, he was cleared to participate Saturday night. After taking part in some warm-up drills without incident, he knew everything would be all right.

"I felt good in warm-ups," he said. "I forgot about the knee even before the scrimmage started. Once I got the MRI and saw everything was good, I was ready to play. I wasn't even thinking about it during the scrimmage."

When Hardesty ripped off an eight-yard gain on his first carry of the scrimmage, that reinforced his feeling of security. And it showed his teammates that the 6-foot, 205-pound redshirt freshman is capable of contributing again.

"It was just good to show the team I'm ready to play," he said. "I felt 100 percent. Now I just need to make sure my knee doesn't flare up."

Asked if he had any mental block at all, Hardesty grinned.

"None," he said, "… except one time I stepped the wrong way on a counter play."

No one was happier to see Hardesty perform effectively than quarterback Erik Ainge. The Vols desperately need another quality tailback to spell first-teamer Arian Foster. Hardesty took a step toward earning that role on Saturday evening.

"I think he's going to help us out a lot, especially between the tackles," Ainge said. "We all know what Arian Foster can do. He's special. I think if he (Hardesty) stays healthy No. 2 is going to help us out a lot this year."

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